Katherine Wolkoff: Birds

In the 19th century, images played a central role in ornithology, the study of birds, including James Audubon’s exquisite drawings, paintings, and prints and Eadweard Muybridge’s serial photographs of birds in flight. More recently, Katherine Wolkoff has produced a striking avian-themed works, inspired by the work of Elizabeth Dickens who, early in the twentieth century, began collecting bird specimens to teach children living on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, about migratory patterns. Over time, Dickens amassed 172 taxidermized birds, most of which were not intentionally killed by humans but perished for various reasons—by, for example, flying into windows and buildings or being chased by cats. Dickens’ work was celebrated and written about in ornithology journals, newspapers, and magazines such as Life and The Saturday Evening Post. Decades later, Wolkoff (whose work often and elegantly explores the natural world) first learned about the “Bird Lady” on a ferry ride to Block Island. Interest piqued, Wolkoff produced a series of haunting silhouettes of some of birds from Dickens’ collection that, as the artist describes it, “abstracts them a bit” and in that process further elevates “the ordinary into the extraordinary.”

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