Bright-eyed and Bushy-tailed: A Newbie’s Take on Birds in Art

By: Catie Anderson, curator of education on September 12th, 2012

I survived. The Birds in Art opening festivities served as my institutional initiation, and I can now say with confidence that I’m a part of the Woodson Art Museum family.

It all began to sink in Friday – how truly special Birds in Art is and what this annual exhibition means to so many people. From speaking with artists, I not only gleaned information regarding their artworks – processes, tricks, and challenges – but also learned how important this annual gathering is for this community of creative and talented individuals. Birds in Art is like a homecoming for Master Artists and artists who’ve earned repeated participation in the exhibition. For some, this is the social event of the season as they reconnect with old friends and greet fresh faces in the galleries…enthusiastic first-time Birds in Art artists. Participation in Birds in Art is a career goal for some artists who have attended the exhibition for many years, hoping someday their name would appear atop of a coveted page in the Birds in Art catalogue.

First-time artists like Kevin Kohlman of LaCrosse had been making the fall pilgrimage to Birds in Art for years before he retired from teaching music and turned his full attention to his art. Kevin’s enthusiasm for the exhibition was contagious; upon discovering that his artwork, The Sun Catcher, was selected for the large exhibition sign in the Museum’s main entrance, his smiles grew even larger.

Warm fuzzies filled any and all spaces inhabited by Birds in Art artists. Laughter and chatter served as constant white noise in the galleries. In all honesty, I’ve never met a group of people as warm and friendly as these artists. As someone who struggles with small talk and interjecting myself into conversations with strangers, I found within minutes that arms were open for hugs and everyone was up for a chat.

Bleary-eyed, I joined artists for an early-morning birding jaunt to the George W. Mead Wildlife Area. With the essential breakfast breads in hand, business manager Mary Borowski joined me at the Grand Lodge by Stoney Creek to load artists onto the bus for the outing. A wagon ride, led by local bird experts Dan Belter and Doug Aziz, yielded scenic views and a robust list of local avian sightings. Despite the cool morning and lack of caffeine, I scribbled notes of bird species identified by the group of artists on a small notepad. I quickly grew accustomed to Swedish artist Peter Elfman’s voice announcing a sighting, followed by murmurs of excitement, confirmation, and directional cues to those searching the horizon.

Birds @ the Mead:

1. Savannah sparrow
2. Chipping sparrow
3. Clay-colored sparrow
4. Swallows: barn and tree
5. Sandhill cranes
6. Palm warbler
7. Mallards
8. Bald eagles
9. Common yellowthroat
10. Solitary sandpiper
11. Goldfinch
12. Pied-billed grebe
13. Greater yellowleg
14. Lesser yellowleg
15. Trumpeter swans
16. Wood ducks
17. Great blue herons
18. Green herons
19. American bittern
20. Double crested cormorant
21. Northern shoveler (duck)
22. Blue-winged teal (duck)
23. American coot
24. Blue jay
25. Belted kingfisher
26. Cedar waxwings
27. Red tail hawk
28. Eastern phoebe

Additional things I learned during the opening weekend:

* Calories consumed during Birds in Art don’t count (thank goodness, considering most of us on staff just indulged in an ice-cream lunch treat from Saturday’s leftovers).
* If you prepare for rain, it shall not come . . . and vice versa.
* Never forget your binoculars on a trip to the Mead Wildlife Center, but if you do, don’t worry, Chris Maynard will lend you his when you need them.
* Dress in layers. Many, many layers.
* There’s always room for dessert. Period.

These next few days are dedicated to audio tour interview edits and preparing for the App launch. Let’s hope I can ride this Birds in Art adrenaline rush a while longer to make it through the rest of the week.

What were your moments from the opening weekend festivities at the Museum?

Signing off.  See you next year – no longer a newbie but still bright-eyed!

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