Exhibition of extinct North American birds recreated in bronze on grounds of Auburn art museum

Published: May 08, 2015
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"The Lost Bird Project," an exhibition of the work of sculptor Todd McGrain, will be on view on the grounds of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art through March 16, 2016.

McGrain has spent more than a decade bringing extinct North American birds back into the world. The Passenger Pigeon, the Labrador Duck, the Carolina Parakeet, the Heath Hen and the Great Auk were only memories until McGrain immortalized them in stylized bronze sculpture. Each bird stands over six feet tall and weighs up to 700 pounds with surfaces as smooth as polished stone.

"Perhaps it was their absence that led me to them, that compelled me to shape my first small model of a preening Labrador Duck," McGrain said. "Perhaps it was the challenge of finding form for the formless."

After each project is completed, McGrain travels across the country to bring his sculptures home – to place them in their former natural habitat. Since 2000, McGrain has met with local communities to place permanent memorials at locations directly related to each bird's decline – their natural habitat or where they were last seen.

"Before I heard or read the stories of the lost birds, I did not know to miss them," McGrain said. "I had no sympathy for them or any of us who have lost the opportunity to witness the vitality of their lives."

McGrain said prior to 2000, the five wild lost birds could only be remembered through science and literature with colorful descriptions or intricate shadowboxes preserving their lifeless bodies. And it was through literature, Christina Cokinos' novel "Hope is the Thing with Feathers," that he took notice of their extinction.

"My initial efforts were hampered by a lack of knowledge of these birds' true forms," McGrain said. "I soon found myself leaning over trays of preserved specimens in the back rooms of natural history museums from California to Newfoundland."

McGrain journeyed to where the five birds were last seen in the wild. He said each rough landscape paints a unique picture of the birds' lives where hollowed trees, dried grasses and brush, calm waters and open skies envelop a solitary sculpture.

McGrain's work has been showcased at temporary exhibitions across the country including the Wildlife Museum in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; McCall City Park in Portland, Oregon; and now, at Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art.

"The arrival of this outdoor sculpture exhibition at Auburn was inspired in part by the museum's Louise Hauss and David Brent Miller Audubon Collection," said Museum Director Marilyn Laufer. "This also continues the museum's ongoing program to provide our audiences with the unique art experience of engaging large-scale sculpture in a natural setting."

Admission is free courtesy of JCSM Business Partners. For more information, visit jcsm.auburn.edu or call (334) 844-1484.

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