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  • The Dreams of Martha

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    Tags: extinct, extant, ivory-billed woodpecker, carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon

    Created: 1/27/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    We’ve asked watercolor artist Kristina Knowski to tell us about her inspiration for depicting the beauty of birds. Currently, our exhibit, The Dreams of Martha, features Knowski’s artwork and connects us to the Nature Museum’s year of the Passenger Pigeon, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the extinction of what was once the most abundant bird in North America. Keep reading to learn more about Knowski’s creative process and her love for nature!

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    Kristina Knowski, Tenebrous Flight, 2013, Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, Extinct 1914, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 3 panels of 25.5 X 37.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, Tenebrous Flight, 2013, Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, Extinct 1914, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 3 panels of 25.5 X 37.5 in

    There was always that unsettling footnote at the bottom of the books picturing some of my favorite bird species. My most memorable was just after I had fallen in love with the Ivory-Billed and what would have been the largest woodpecker in North America. It was a beautiful image: a rich black bird contrasting with large white primaries and a thin streak of feathers trailing from its chin to its back. To top it off, a long pointed crest streamlined its head, the male of its species wearing his in a brilliant crimson. Yet the footnote was there, the disclaimer at the bottom, stating that this species was most likely extinct.

    Kristina Knowski, He prayeth well, who loveth well, 2012, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, Believed to have gone extinct in the 1950’s, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 41.5 X 31.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, He prayeth well, who loveth well, 2012, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, Believed to have gone extinct in the 1950’s, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 41.5 X 31.5 in

    Since I have discovered my passion for birds, extinct species have always been a main focus for me as an artist. Birds represent something natural, fragile, and beautiful. Extinct birds represent those same things, but also something that has been lost. I enjoy creating work that questions our ideas of reality and sense of existence, and extinct birds have become a personal element in my work in conjunction with other nonexistent beings. The paintings included in The Dreams of Martha exhibit focus on both extinct and extant birds of North America, some which can be found in your backyard, while others haunt their old habitats with empty skies. I wanted to create for the viewer a sense of compassion for these animals. While the images are mostly identifiable with some level of detail, those details become more and more, faded like an old memory. The bird seems to vanish into the background, losing its sense of physicality and wholeness. Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers, Carolina Parakeets, Passenger Pigeons, Ryukyu Kingfishers, Bush Wrens, and other extinct birds are now inhabitants of my theoretical world where nonexistence reigns supreme and “nothing” is everywhere. 

    Kristina Knowski, Lady Jane and Incas, Close again, 2012, Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, Extinct 1918, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 21.5 X 17.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, Lady Jane and Incas, Close again, 2012, Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, Extinct 1918, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 21.5 X 17.5 in

    September 1, 2014 marks 100 years since the death of the last recorded living Passenger Pigeon, Martha. While this is a tragic reminder of the destruction humanity is capable of, it is also a remembrance to a vast and unique species that we will never encounter again. This day should serve as a severe warning to not repeat history and to treasure the species we are still sharing this planet with. A seemingly limitless species, such as the Passenger Pigeon, can be wiped out within less than a century. I humbly paint to aim as a reminder of this tragedy and hope for a less tragic future.

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    We hope you have a chance to see her exhibit, which is located on the Museum’s second floor south gallery. You can also view more of Kristina’s work at: kristinaknowski.com

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