This post was submitted by Susan Frampton, program coordinator, Smithsonian Libraries.
Serendipity: happy chance; lucky chance; happenstance; and good fortune.
Any and all of those words could be used to describe my encounter, collaboration and friendship with Andy Stern, executive director, and Todd McGrain, artist, sculptor and creative director, of The Lost Bird Project. My good luck began during an online image search for the Smithsonian Libraries’ exhibition Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America in September 2013; little did I know then that the exhibition would take on a very big dimension.
When I found an image on The Lost Bird Project website, I immediately reached out to Andy. We had conversations about bringing The Lost Bird Project to the Smithsonian as part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, who was to be displayed in Once There Were Billions in the National Museum of American History. Andy is pretty persuasive, but in reality the Project was so amazing it sold itself. I brought the Project to the attention of several groups at the Smithsonian and when I proposed it to the Smithsonian Gardens, they really liked the idea. Four were installed in the Enid A. Haupt Garden and the passenger pigeon is in the National Museum of Natural History’s Urban Bird Habitat Garden. Having the Lost Bird project in the gardens expanded the reach of Once There Were Billions to the entire Smithsonian Mall.
The “lost birds” are large-scale bronze sculptures of the passenger pigeon, heath hen, great auk, Carolina parakeet, and Labrador duck. Gone and nearly forgotten, the five extinct birds have left a hole in the American landscape and in our collective memory. Moved by their stories, Todd set out to bring their vanished forms back into the world by permanently placing his elegant, evocative bronze memorials at the location of each bird’s demise. “These birds are not commonly known and they ought to be, because forgetting is another kind of extinction,” McGrain said. “It’s such a thorough erasing.”
The Lost Bird Project film, to be shown in the Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History at 6:00 pm on Thursday November 20, 2014, is the heartfelt story of the birds driven to extinction in modern times and sculptor Todd’s project to memorialize them. The film follows Todd as he creates his wonderful sculptures, searches for where the birds were last seen in the wild, and negotiates for permission to install his large bronze sculptures there. It tells the story of how these birds came to meet their fates and the journey that leads Todd and Andy from the swamps of Florida, the final roosting ground of the Carolina parakeet, to a tiny island off the coast of Newfoundland, where some of the last great auks made their nests and where the local townspeople still mourn their absence 150 years later. The Lost Bird Project, directed by Deborah Dickson and produced by Muffie Meyer, is a film about public art, extinction and memory. It is an elegy to five extinct North American birds and a thoughtful, moving, sometimes humorous look at the artist and his mission.
To attend this event, RSVP to SILRSVP@si.edu or call 202-633-2241.