Category Archives: Art Views

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.

SUPPORT OUR WORK and Donate to the Museum of American Bird Art

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.

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.

SUPPORT OUR WORK and Donate to the Museum of American Bird Art

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

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

Art Views – Sherrie York

We are delighted to introduce a new series in our Taking Flight blog, Art Views, a fascinating collection of personal perspectives. Artists, collectors, MABA staff and other art enthusiasts have generously agreed to write about bird art that is meaningful to them. Posts may be about how an artist approaches their work, profiles of artworks in MABA’s collection, or whatever catches our guest bloggers’ fancy. Keep reading, share your comments, and enjoy!
~ Amy Montague, Museum Director of the Museum of American Bird Art

Trunk Show by Sherrie York

Trunk Show, Sherrie York

I’ve always been a fan of the “shoulder” seasons. Each day of spring and autumn is dynamic and exciting; migratory birds come and go, flowers and trees blossom and seed, and the balance of day and night waxes and wanes.

Although I now live in Maine, I grew up and spent most transitional seasons in Colorado, where spring is slow to arrive and high country autumns are intense and fleeting. In September, acres-wide stands of aspen trees quake with color as they turn from bright green to brilliant gold (and sometimes red!), but their show can be over with one strong wind or an early snow.

One of my favorite haunts during Colorado autumns was an area called, appropriately, Aspen Ridge. Every time I explored the ridge I was drawn to the cluster of large-trunked trees depicted in my linocut, “Trunk Show.” In fact, these same trees have been the subject of several sketches, paintings, and linocuts over the years.

Of course I’m not the only one who liked to visit this grove. Aspen stands are important in the west because they support a greater diversity of bird species than the surrounding coniferous forests. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, warblers, flycatchers… they all rely on aspen.

When I moved to Maine just over two years ago I looked forward to discovering the rhythms and colors of seasons in the northern hardwood forest. I was delighted to find a few familiar aspen trees in between the oak, birch, and spruce behind my house, but even more comforted by the presence of some of the same bird species common to aspen groves. The woodpeckers and chickadees in particular are constant companions. 

As a printmaker my first quest is always for a strong composition and graphic elements. These must be decided upon and resolved before block carving or ink rolling can begin, because carved areas can’t be erased or painted over. The vertical white trunks and dark “eyes” of the aspen tree are just such elements, and the shapes and patterns of the leaves offer a great opportunity to play with color and texture. 

In the world of fashion, a trunk show provides an opportunity for designers and wearers to meet in a more personal and intimate way. In the larger world of nature, time spent with tree trunks allows to meet our neighbors and discover all the ways in which we are connected.

My linocuts are most often developed using a process called reduction printing. All of the colors in an image are printed from a single block of linoleum in successive stages of carving and printing. “Trunk Show” required 14 individual stages of carving and printing. It’s too much to share in a single post, but if you’d like to see how the entire piece developed, I documented all the stages on my blog, Brush and Baren.  The series begins here: