Author Archives: Amy M

About Amy M

MABA Director

Art Views: Colleene Fesko on Frank Benson

Frank Benson, a giant of the Boston School of Impressionist painting, is also the standard bearer of modern sporting art in the United States. Fellow printmaker John Taylor Arms wrote that Benson “has achieved the distinction of founding a school—that of the modern sporting artist.  In this, his followers and imitators have been many, his equals none.”

Left: The Duck Marsh by Frank W. Benson, oil on canvas, 1921. Mass Audubon Collection, gift of Agnes S. Bristol, 1972. Used as the frontispiece for John C. Phillips’ A Natural History of the Ducks, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1922.

But his second career as a printmaker specializing in sporting material would not begin until he reached middle age. Born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1862, Benson spent his early years studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and at the Académie Julien in Paris. In 1889, after a few years of travelling and holding various teaching posts, Benson began his long tenure as a teacher at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.  During these years his stature as an artist constantly grew and he accrued numerous awards and commissions. 

Using family members as his primary models, Benson bathed them in a diffused atmospheric light. These paintings show the artist’s early interest in Impressionist plein air scenes of leisure, realized through broken brushstrokes and a light-infused palette.  As with many of the American Impressionist artists of the period, he acknowledged the complete dissolution of the figure as seen in French Impressionism, but never lost his interest in a composition grounded in realism and structure.

Benson left his teaching position at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1913—coincidentally the same year that the Armory Show in New York shook up the art world and formally ushered in the  new style of Modernism. 

Over Sunk Marsh by Frank W. Benson, drypoint on paper, 1920. Mass Audubon Collection, purchase, 1989.

Soon after leaving teaching behind, Benson started his career as a printmaker specializing in sporting material. Interested in ornithological illustration since he was a boy, Benson brought to his prints a love of nature and the outdoors as well as the “nurturing” experiences of a classically trained artist.

These prints also incorporate his interest in Modernism. In his spare, understated handling of the scenes, the birds—always identifiable—are depicted as calligraphic accents in elegant, almost abstract, compositions. In 1915 Benson had his first exhibition of sporting prints, and they were immediately in demand. 

I’ve had the opportunity to handle the sale and marketing of numerous paintings, prints and watercolors by Benson. I greatly appreciate his tour de force Impressionist paintings, but I find the sporting prints very compelling as well. They have a timeless appeal to past and present collectors alike.

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Our guest blogger Colleene Fesko is a Boston-based fine art and antiques appraiser and broker, and a friend of MABA. She is frequently seen on the hit PBS television series Antiques Roadshow.

MABA’s Benefactor: Mildred Morse Allen

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MILDRED MORSE ALLEN—artist, filmmaker, conservationist and philanthropist—made the Museum of American Bird Art possible through her generous bequest. And it is her combined passions for art and nature, especially birds, that drive the work of MABA today.

Mildred Vining Morse was born in 1903, the granddaughter of the two most prominent men in Canton: James L. Draper of the Draper Brothers woolen mills, and Elijah Morse, founder of the Rising Sun Stove Polish Company. Rising Sun was extremely successful: in 1881, 17 years after its founding, the daily output of the factory was 30 tons or 165,000 packages, of stove polish. A lumber mill and box factory worked day and night to supply its needs. Morse was a pioneer in outdoor advertising, renting space on buildings, barns, boulders, and even cliffs. His product was sold around the world. Mildred was the sole heir of the Rising Sun fortune.

She studied painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Passionate about birds, in 1961 she first borrowed bird skins from Mass Audubon to paint from. Eventually she painted 100 watercolor bird portraits, all now in Mass Audubon’s collection.

George Lockhart Allen became Mildred’s suitor in the 1920’s. She was very close to her widowed mother, and so it was to be a very long courtship. Mildred and Lock married in 1962, after her mother’s death.

Her interests later turned to filmmaking. She wanted to better capture the liveliness of the natural world, and she wanted to use the most current, compelling medium possible to spread the word about the importance of protecting the environment. Her short nature films received awards both nationally and internationally, and were shown across the country on public television. Her film, Nature Remains, won the Grand Award at the International Film & TV Festival 1966 in New York.

She thought of her property in Canton as a wildlife sanctuary. She once wrote: “My woods are ideal for a sanctuary: fields, hardwood sections, pine groves, one large swamp with a brook running through the center, two smaller swamps that dry up late in the season but are still popular, used for nesting by song sparrows and yellow throats.” At one time she had 53 bird houses throughout her property, and in the woods there were two feeders with a capacity of 100 pounds of seed, and two with a 20-pound capacity.

She died in 1989. Two years later, after her husband’s death, her 121-acre property and a generous endowment came by bequest to Mass Audubon. Today Mildred’s passions are perpetuated through MABA’s mission: to celebrate the beauty and wonder of birds and nature, inspiring inquiry and creativity, and expanding knowledge about humanity’s relationship with nature.

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Nature in a Minute – American Kestrel

Guest post by Julianne Mehegan

American Kestrel and Prairie Falcon by David Sibley, gouache on Bristol board. Mass Audubon Collection.

On my afternoon walk I spotted an American Kestrel. This handsome bird was doing what kestrels do, sitting on an open perch, hunting for insects and small rodents. Seeing the kestrel was a huge thrill for me, it really lifted my spirits.

Back at home I got out the Sibley Guide to Birds to refresh my knowledge about kestrels.  Kestrels are the smallest and most widespread falcon, ranging throughout North America. The kestrel I saw was a male. Its wings were bluish gray, the back and tail feathers were rusty-red, the breast speckled. When perched, the kestrel pumps its tail to maintain balance. The illustrations in the Sibley Guide show both the female and male kestrel and how the bird looks in flight.

David Sibley’s original art for this illustration in the Sibley Guide to Birds is in Mass Audubon’s art collection at the Museum of American Bird Art. To see more of David Sibley’s art, and to read about his new book, What It’s Like to Be a Bird, visit his website. MABA’s exhibition of original art from the book is expected to be on view again when the museum reopens to the public.

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Art Views – Julianne Mehegan on Flight Over the Dunes by Cindy House

Art Views is a fascinating series of personal perspectives on bird art, generously contributed by artists, collectors, MABA staff and other art enthusiasts. Read more Art Views here.

The painting Flight Over the Dunes by Cindy House was purchased for MABA’s collection in 2014.

Flight Over the Dunes by Cindy House, pastel, 2009. Mass Audubon Collection.

Cindy House wrote: The last step in my pastel painting is to add the birds.  In Flight Over the Dunes, they were the small flock of flying Mourning Doves. I found the landscape incomplete without the birds that happened by when I was in the field.  Birds have an inexplicable way of bringing life to the landscape. 

Cindy considers the greatest gift given to her by her mother, a natural history teacher, was the ability to see and observe the splendor of the natural world. She now uses that gift to express herself with pastels and occasionally oils.

In 2009 MABA was honored to host an exhibition of Cindy’s work, Landscapes Discovered: Pastels of New England by Cindy House. To see more of her art, visit her website.

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Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Artist in Residence: Barry Van Dusen


I’m thrilled that Barry Van Dusen is MABA’s newest Artist in Residence. Over the next two years, Barry will travel across the state, visiting many of Mass Audubon’s 56 wildlife sanctuaries, and chronicling the rich and diverse landscapes, habitats, and wildlife found on our extraordinary array of properties.

Barry at Wachusett Meadow 1 (large hi-res)

Barry at Wachusett Meadow

Barry has a long association with Mass Audubon, as an illustrator for our publications for nearly 30 years. But beyond his remarkable illustration work, he has established himself as an internationally recognized fine artist, focusing on the natural world, and most often, birds.

Barry’s residency will culminate in an exhibition at MABA, but you will get a sneak peek at his paintings and the stories behind them by checking out his postings here in MABA’s Taking Flight blog.

Although he will not literally be residing at MABA, the Mass Audubon sanctuaries will be his home away from home while he works on this project. So when you hit the trails at your favorite Mass Audubon sanctuary, be prepared to turn a corner, and come upon Barry at work! Check out his first post.

Amy Montague, MABA director

Launching Taking Flight

Welcome to Taking Flight, the new blog from the Museum of American Bird Art (MABA)! We look forward to sharing insights on a wide range of subjects, from the lives of bird artists to behind-the-scenes operations of the museum, and much more.

Sean Kent, MABA educator and camp director, will coordinate the effort. As the blog unfolds, you’ll find postings from various museum staff and volunteers, as well as visiting artists. Don’t miss the series by MABA Artist in Residence, Barry Van Dusen, who is traveling to Mass Audubon sanctuaries across the state, capturing the flora, fauna and landscape with his pencil and brush.

We hope you will participate, too, by sharing your thoughts with us. Let’s take flight together!

Amy Montague, MABA director