YORK, 15 October 2002 - New
York has wildlife, and plenty of it. And that doesnt mean the
club scene. As the exhibition Urban Neighbors: Images of New York
City Wildlife shows, the five boroughs harbor an abundance of wild
living creatures. The New York Public Librarys collections have
yielded a menagerie of striking images created by preeminent
zoological artists illustrating the surprising variety of fauna in the
city, and refuting the canard that the local wildlife consists only of
pigeons, cockroaches, and rats. More than 220 items, dating from the
mid-17th century to the present, are on view through 1 February 2003
in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd
Urban Neighbors includes images of approximately 250
species, a highly selective cross section of New York City wildlife,
represented in historic and contemporary illustrated books,
photographs, hand-colored engravings and lithographs, maps, and
original art, as well as the occasional cartoon or magazine cover. The
exhibition is drawn primarily from the Librarys collections
supplemented by select loans. Urban Neighbors is organized in
eight sections, based primarily on habitat: city streets and
backyards, parks and green spaces, shore and wetlands. Insects and "Unwelcome
Neighbors" are dealt with in separate sections as are several of
the citys historical animal residents and occasional visitors.
Dove (Columba livia) and Lion (Panthera leo).
Pigeon on New York
Public Library Lion
Photograph by Ben Asen, December 2001. ©
.Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library.
opening section of the exhibition, "Historical Neighbors,"
focuses on once-abundant animals that played an important role in the
early economy of New Amsterdam and later New York. The beaver, whose
pelts founded many a fortune, including that of John Jacob Astor, has
appeared on the seal of the city since the 17th century. In Urban
Neighbors the beaver is depicted on both a bronze replica of the
first seal of New Amsterdam that once adorned the old West Side
Highway built in the 1930s by Robert Moses and on a ceramic plaque
from the Astor Place subway station.
Shellfish, especially clams and oysters, were also of
vital economic importance. The tasty Northern Quahog or hard-shelled clam,
which is featured in a beautiful hand-colored lithograph from James
Ellsworth DeKays Zoology of New York, or the New York
(1842 -- 44), played
a vital role not just as a food item but as currency used by the
Lenape Indians and American colonists. Although shellfish were at one
time harvested in enormous quantities, heedless overfishing and
increasing water pollution led to the demise of the local shellfish
industry by the beginning of the 20th century. One of the most
striking portraits of a historic neighbor, as well as a poignant
example of the destruction of a species, is John James Audubons
graceful depiction of the Passenger Pigeon. When Audubon painted it in
1824, it was one of the most numerous birds in the world. Yet by the
end of the century, the Passenger Pigeon was gone, senselessly
slaughtered by the millions. "Martha," the last of her
species, died on 1 September 1914.
of the ubiquitous species represented in this section are, like New Yorks
other bipedal denizens, scrappy immigrants from the Old World. European
Starlings were introduced to New York in 1890 by a wealthy merchant with
a literary bent, who wanted to enrich the local avifauna with birds
mentioned by Shakespeare. House Sparrows were introduced in the mid-19th
century in the hope that they would eat native pests. Common street
pigeons, or Rock Doves, arouse passionate controversy between avowed
pigeon-haters who consider them nothing but "rats with wings"
and pigeon enthusiasts. Among the various depictions of pigeons on view
in the exhibition is a photograph by Ben Asen of a classic specimen
perched on the head of one of the stone lions that flank the entrance to
the Librarys landmark building on Fifth Avenue.
Doves, American Robins, Monarch Butterflies, and Eastern Gray
Squirrels are just some of New Yorks "Street and Backyard
Neighbors." Peregrine Falcons, once locally extinct raptors that
prey on pigeons and other small birds, were reintroduced in the 1970s
and now often nest on skyscrapers and bridges. Two dramatic artworks
illustrate these birds in their urban habitat. Peregrine Falcon in New
York City, an illustration for a poster by Frank Ippolito, shows the
majestic birds on the Art Deco Chrysler Building, and a photograph by
Michael J. Feller captures Peregrines nesting on the MetLife Building.
"Shore and Wetlands
Neighbors" is devoted to the waterfowl, shorebirds, amphibians,
turtles, and shore crabs that inhabit New York Citys 578 miles of
shoreline and its rivers, salt- and freshwater marshes, and lakes and
streams. Among the images in this section is a hand-colored lithograph
of a handsome, brown-plumed American Bittern, a large solitary member of
the heron family. It was created in 1837 by Edward Lear, who is
considered to be among the finest bird painters, although better known
for his nonsense verse.
(Rana catesbiana). Hand-colored etching by Mark Catesby
drawing. In: M. Catesby, The Natural History of Carolina,
and the Bahama Islands Vol. 2 of 2 (1771).
Division, The New York Public Library
.Photo courtesy of The New
York Public Library.
In the late
18th century, British-born naturalist and artist Mark Catesby published
the earliest American natural history book illustrated with color
plates. Largely self-taught as an artist and printmaker, Catesby not
only collected and preserved specimens, created the drawings, and wrote
the text, he also etched all the plates and hand-colored many of the
prints. Two plates from Catesbys landmark book are featured in
this section, including a hand-colored etching of a male Bullfrog, whose
deep-throated mating call can often be heard near the citys ponds,
lakes, and streams. A wonderful photograph by Don Riepe taken in August
2001 depicts Ospreys nesting on a platform erected for their use at
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The birds appear entirely unfazed by the
jumbo jet taking off from JFK International Airport in the background.
Neighbors: Images of New York City Wildlife is on view from 11
October 2002 through 1 February 2003 at The New York Public Library.
Tip: Robert Bateman: BIRDS
Foreward by Peter Matthiessen
Pantheon Books, New York, 15 October 2002
subject of several films and a bit of a publishing phenomenon (three
books of his art having sold more than three quarters of a milllion
copies) the distinguished Canadian wildlife painter Robert Bateman (b.
1930) traveled to Alaska, South Asia, Europe, Africa, Antarctica, the
Caribbean, Florida and the North Pacific Coast painting birds indigenous
to each region. The paintings are accompanied by Bateman's engaging and
informative first-person narrative of his adventures such as watching a
secretary bird in Africa attacking its dinner of snake, a spectacular
bald eagle swooping down to its nest on Salt Spring Island, emperor
penguins waddling up hills of ice during the Antarctic winter or a
rather grand and dramatically rendered male peacock "treading
cautiously past temple ruins in a banyan grove" in India.
equal interest are Bateman's occasional comments on the evolutionary and
survival skills of birds or their signficance in world mythology: "And
if we walked too close to the raven's nest, we could have have been
pelted with rocks, since this bird is one of the few that has learned
how to use tools. Scientists have theorized that ravens became crafty
over the centuries as they learned how to steal bits of prey caught by
large predators like wolves and bears. For the Haid, the raven is a wily
trickster-transformer who created the world, while in Norse mythology,
the ravens Hugin and Munin represented thought and memory".
those who love birds, Robert Bateman's BIRDS provides an
attractive combination of expert avian painting, natural history and an
admirable commitment to ecology and conservation.