The Return of the Great Auk
This month scientists announced that it may be possible to use DNA to reintroduce the Great Auk, a bird extinct since the middle of the 19th Century.
The Great Auk was great indeed, standing at over 30 inches. Get a tape measure. That is a big bird!
When not making baby Auks, these birds would hunt the North Atlantic, weaving gracefully through the water. Unfortunately, on the ground they shared the same failings as the Dodo; they couldn’t fly, they couldn’t run very fast and they were damned tasty.
The Great Auk is no more.
The last pair were killed in 1844 on an island near Iceland but a reliable sighting was reported in 1952 of a single bird off Newfoundland. Great Auks mated for life, and the thought of a solitary bird is especially sad.
I recently finished a set of Warwick Goble illustrations from Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water-Babies – A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby’. Mr Goble’s illustration below must undoubtedly be based on the last Great Auk, his ‘last Gairfowl’ sitting on the ‘Allalonestone’, all alone.
The announcement then is amazing news; the word ‘extinct’ may no longer mean ‘gone for ever’. That these impressive birds might be living and breeding again in the Farne Islands, (off the coast of Northumberland, England) towering over the Puffins and Razorbills that nest there, is incredibly exciting.
Please click on the cards below to see my Great Auk and Gairfowl products. Thanks for visiting!
OK, I’m over it.
For the past few months I have been sulking. Zazzle decided to change product creation without informing their sellers and we wasted a considerable amount of time contacting customer support and filling in requests for ‘further information’ and in the end, they could have just told us that things had changed. Thanks for that, Zazzle.
Anyhoo, as a result I have resized and remade the posters with a white border. Annoyingly, I really like them, and the fact that they are all the same height which means you can display them side-by-side as I always wanted. So, Zazzle, I forgive you.
In my excitement, I’ve made a lot of new stuff and have just scanned my newest book acquisitions which means there’s even more coming!
Please click on the Jolly Roger below for new Millicent Sowerby (Cinderella), Jessie Willcox Smith (improved Little Women), Alice B. Woodward (Peter Pan), E. J. Detmold (Baby Animals), wonderful Anne Anderson baby illustrations and (yey!) Hummingbirds.
It’s Darwin Day!
I can think of no better way to celebrate Charles
Darwin’s birthday than with his Galapagos finches, the
most famous birds in Natural History.
The illustrations below are from The Zoology of the
Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, under the command of Captain
Fitzroy, R.N., during the years 1832 to 1836, Part 3,
Birds. This five volume work was edited by Darwin, who
was the ship’s naturalist on the expedition to South
America, Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand and of course
the Galapagos Islands.
On Darwin’s return, the birds he collected were sent to
John Gould for classification. Gould’s wife Elizabeth,
by now a gifted artist, used her husband’s sketches to
draw and lithograph the new discoveries.
This is Cactornis scandens, now known as Geospiza scandens, the Common Cactus Finch. ‘Common indeed, I inspired the theory of natural selection!’
Above, Camarhynchus psittacula, the Large Tree-finch. Below, the magnificently beaked Geospiza magnirostris, the Large Ground-finch.
The next illustration – not a finch – is Tanagra darwini, named by Gould for Charles Darwin. This species is now known as the Blue and Yellow Tanager (Thraupis bonariensis darwinii).
Finally, I couldn’t resist this little Flycatcher eyeing up a bug. A nice touch by Mrs. Gould. Happy Darwin Day 🙂
This is the third and final piece of original artwork by Jessie Willcox Smith for the book Dickens’s Children. Here we have The Runaway Couple, Master Harry Walmers and Miss Norah, resting at the inn on their way to Gretna Green to be married. Poor little Norah is not used to being away from home and is exhausted from a long coach journey. Not even a Norfolk biffin is going to cheer her up.
‘So Boots goes up-stairs to the Angel, and there he finds Master Harry on a e-normous sofa — immense at any time, but looking like the Great Bed of Ware, compared with him — a drying the eyes of Miss Norah with his pocket-hankecher. Their little legs was entirely off the ground, of course, and it really is not possible for Boots to express to me how small them children looked.’ (Christmas Stories – The Holly Tree by Charles Dickens.)
Sadly, the union is not to be and the two go their separate ways.
‘…...I hold with him in two opinions: firstly, that there are not many couples on their way to be married who are half as innocent of guile as those two children; secondly, that it would be a jolly good thing for a great many couples on their way to be married, if they could only be stopped in time, and brought back separately.’
I can’t tell what Miss Norah is clutching along with her parasol, but for her wedding trip she also carried ‘a smelling-bottle, a round and a half of cold buttered toast, eight peppermint drops, and a (doll’s) hair-brush.’
Below is the reproduction from Dickens’s Children, 1912.
Please click on the postcard below to find the runaways and more – thanks for visiting 🙂
‘Lost’ Novel to be Published After 55 Years
A few days ago, the internet (and appropriately Twitter) was a flurry of excitement over the news of a sequel to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. The rediscovered manuscript, actually written before Mockingbird, is called Go Set A Watchman, and takes place 20 years after the original story.
I would like to celebrate this exciting news, not with a Finch, Peck, rabid dog or chifferobe but with real Mockingbirds.
Firstly, a classic from the bird-meister himself, John James Audubon. This famous illustration of mockingbirds defending their nest against a scary rattlesnake caused Audubon a certain amount of trouble. Rattlesnakes, many naturalists mocked, do not climb trees, even on the promise of mockingbird eggs for breakfast. Audubon insisted that he had sketched the scene after witnessing it first hand. Whatever the truth, it’s pretty impressive.
Below is Mark Catesby’s Mock-Bird in a Dogwood Tree from his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, published from 1729 to 1747. This two volume, 220 plate epic took Catesby seventeen years to complete, following four years of travelling and collecting, and was the first fully illustrated natural history of North America.
The last illustration is from Alice E. Ball’s A Year with the Birds, published in 1916; just one of fifty-six beautiful images of American birds by Robert Bruce Horsfall.
‘But hark! what is that? Distinctly we hear
The pop of a cork, a whistle clear,
A call to a dog, a whip-poor-will’s cry,
A phoebe’s hoarse note. Against the blue sky,
The same gray-coated, white-vested bird
Is uttering all the sounds we have heard.’
Alice E. Ball
Another piece of original artwork by Jessie Willcox Smith today. This is Little Em’ly, childhood friend and first love of David Copperfield; used and abused by Steerforth but eventually living happily ever after (we assume) in Australia.
‘She started from my side, and ran along a jagged timber which protruded from the place we stood upon, and overhung the deep water at some height, without the least defence. The incident is so impressed on my remembrance, that if I were a draughtsman I could draw its form here, I dare say, accurately as it was that day, and little Em’ly springing forward to her destruction (as it appeared to me), with a look that I have never forgotten, directed far out to sea.
The light, bold, fluttering little figure turned and came back safe to me, and I soon laughed at my fears, and at the cry I had uttered; fruitlessly in any case, for there was no one near.’ (David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.)
Again, this illustration is in ‘mixed media’; watercolour with oil and pastel.
Below, the reproduction from Dickens’s Children, 1912
Please click on the notebook below to find all kinds of Willcox Smith lovelies and again, thanks for visiting 🙂
Dickens’s Children is a collection of 10 illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith, featuring the younger characters from the novels of Charles Dickens. The work was commissioned by Scribner’s in 1911; eight of the drawings subsequently printed in their magazine, and the book published in 1912.
Below is the study for Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit on Christmas Day (A Christmas Carol) and the reproduction printed in the book. The original is described as ‘mixed media’ and looks to be watercolour with oil (the snow) and pastel. Mr Cratchit certainly started out with a much gentler face, although the poor boy behind them still looks like his cap is on fire!
Please click on the link below for new Jessie Willcox Smith cards, postcards, notebooks, jigsaw puzzles and of course posters of all shapes and sizes. Thanks for visiting 🙂
A Monograph of the Trochilidæ, or Family of Humming-Birds
John Gould (1804-1881) was a top bod in English ornithology, curator of the Zoological Society of London and identifier of Darwin’s finches. He also loved hummingbirds.
Although he’d never seen a live hummingbird – he would see his first in 1857 – Gould had a collection of 320 species. These he exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851, garnering public interest and subscribers to his Monograph of the Trochilidæ, which was issued in 25 parts between 1849 and 1861 and subsequently published in 5 volumes.
The illustrations – lithographed by Henry Constantine Richter and William Hart from sketches by Gould – are as delicate and beautifully coloured as the little birds themselves.
There are over 400 plates and I must use them all. However, since I don’t think Zazzle is ready for that many hummingbird products all in one go, I’m going to use one illustration a week.
Cyanomyia franciae – Francia’s Azure-Crown – on Cuphea cordata
From Mr Gould’s description;
“Of the five or six known species of the genus Cyanomyia the C. Franciae may be regarded as the most beautiful….The glittering of the parts referred to is so resplendent, that it is out of the power of any person, I believe, to portray them; hence art and device are in this instance at a nonplus. In the accompanying plate a representation of these feathers is attempted with the ordinary media. If the reader can imagine the neck-plumes to be lit up with the most brilliant and glittering light possible, he may have some faint idea of their loveliness….”
Please click on the poster below to see posters, cards, postcards and notebooks featuring these gorgeous little birds. Thanks for visiting 🙂