Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Painting a Pelican at the Pember

Yesterday we stopped at the Pember Museum of Natural History, a collection of old natural history specimens that is still displayed in Victorian-style glass cases.

The small museum is in Granville, New York, near the border with Vermont. They have about 10,000 taxidermy birds, mammals, and insects, as well as birds' eggs, nests, and minerals. 

I painted the American white pelican in watercolor and gouache. The colors were white, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, and burnt sienna. 

The specimen has the large growths on the top of the beak that occur temporarily during breeding season, which gave me ideas for pterosaurs.

I recommend the museum to artists who want to sketch. Nearly everything is on display. They welcome artists, and they even provide comfortable wood chairs. 

Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote about the wonder of the 19th century cabinets of curiosity, and the different assumptions they present about imparting natural history knowledge:
"The display of organisms in these museums rests upon concepts strikingly different from modern practice, but fully consonant with Victorian concerns: Today we tend to exhibit one or two key specimens, surrounded by an odd mixture of extraneous glitz and useful explanation, all in an effort to teach (if the intent be maximally honorable) or simply to dazzle (nothing wrong with that either). The Victorians, who viewed their museums as microcosms for national goals of territorial expansion and faith in progress fueled by increasing knowledge, tried to stuff every last specimen into their gloriously crowded cabinets — in order to show the full range of global diversity. . . . You can put one beetle in a cabinet (usually an enlarged model, and not a real specimen), surround it with fancy computer graphics and pushbutton wwhatzits, and then state that no other group maintains such diversity. Or you can fill the same cabinet with real beetles from each of a thousand different species — all of differing colors, shapes, and sizes — and then state that you have tried to display each kind in the country."
Pember Museum, Granville, New York.
More about the white pelican on Wikipedia


HNK said...

James, the painting is fantastic! You are really the best artist i've ever found! Really realistic - and lightning, and texture.. I am waiting for your another long art instruction video! You are fantastic! This blog is really helpful : there is a lot of information! Thank you!

Vladimir Venkov said...

Really beautiful painting James.

mfshinn said...

Another great post. You might want to check out the watercolors of another kindred spirit - Peggy McNamara. She is the in-house artist at the Field Museum.

Rich said...

Color & Light at it's best!

Daulat Neupane said...

Wow, that looks like a real treat for the artists. And James, a wonderful rendition you have there. You bring my art spirit up whenever I visit this blog. Thanks for your tireless contributions.

Bobby La said...

Ahh Museums!!!

Don't get me started....I loathe the contemporary take on museums and the new buildings that house the collections. Somehow they have managed to strip mine all sense of wonder, history and engagement and replaced it with a scolding, patronising,contempt.