Line Of Work

Nature enthusiasts will have the rare chance to view never-before-seen artwork from Roger Tory Peterson thanks to a new exhibit that has been assembled at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown.

The exhibit, titled “The Art of the Line,” houses art that has never been put on public display before and will run through May 12.

“The Roger Tory Peterson Institute houses virtually all of Peterson’s life work, except for some pieces that are held in private collections,” said Mark Baldwin, education director. “The Institute’s holdings span Peterson’s entire career, from drawings done while he was in his teens to the illustration he was working on the day of his death.”

According to Baldwin, the oldest works in this particular exhibit date from the late 1940s, which was a time in his career when his fame as the “father of bird watching” was becoming firmly established. What makes these works unique to a viewing public is that, for the most part, they do not relate directly to the field guides for which he became so famous.

“We really were not waiting to show them, they simply have been housed for several years in our archives and I decided it was time to get them out of the dark and celebrate them for the beautiful works they are,” said Baldwin.

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute is be displaying 125 original paintings and drawings by Roger Tory Peterson in the public areas of the building. The works that are available for the public to see include among his best field guide plates, huge gallery paintings of life-size birds, the line drawings and the wildflower guide original art.

“We even have many, many preliminary drawings and sketches done by Peterson on display,” said Baldwin. “I can’t think of a better time to be here to see Peterson’s original work, with the possible exception of the world-class Peterson Centennial Exhibition we had in 2008.”

Many, but not all, of the never-before-seen line drawings feature birds which is part of what makes them unique.

“Bird subjects include the full range of bird families, including penguins, songbirds, waterfowl, birds of prey and more,” said Baldwin. “Peterson also illustrated tarantulas, sea lions, angel fish, people, and landscapes, however, and these are drawings that show Peterson’s range as a graphic artist and illustrator.”

A second exhibit, titled, “Roger Tory Peterson the Botanical Illustrator: A Field Guide to Wildflowers,” is currently running upstairs at the Institute. It features the Institute’s collection of Peterson’s color plates that illustrated his Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeast and North Central North America, which came out in 1968. According to Baldwin, that field guide was one of Peterson’s most ambitious projects, 20 years in the making, with more than 1,300 illustrations total. In addition to the finished plates, many of the field sketches and preliminary drawings that went into it will also be on display.

“I certainly hope the public will recognize this as a rare opportunity to see masterworks of Peterson that have never been framed and exhibited,” said Baldwin “Few visitors ever have the privilege of seeing any of the hundreds of Peterson originals housed in our vaults; bringing these choice pieces out for everyone to see is a real treat I hope everyone will take advantage of.”