Thursday, June 5, 2014
The Lost Bird Project
When: through March 15, 2015
This is the first time I've seen an exhibit at the Smithsonian Gardens. I've been in the Haupt Garden, behind the Castle, many times on my way to the Sackler or the Museum of African Art, and I've walked past the Natural History Museum more times than I can count, but this is the first time I went there with the intention of seeing something in the garden.
Todd McGrain has created these bronze sculptures of birds that are now extinct in order to remind us of what we have lost, and to prompt us not to let this happen again. The passenger pigeon is outside of the Natural History Museum, and the notes next to the sculpture tell the viewer that passenger pigeons were once so abundant that no predator could make a dent in their numbers. I was reminded of the book Cod that described just such amounts of the fish, which was caught by humans in so methodical a manner that they were nearly eliminated entirely.
Although passenger pigeons were immune from the attacks of animal predators, against humans they were not so fortunate. The massive formations of birds were hunted for food and for sport, and the last one died in captivity in 1914. A sad loss, even if the world is still full of pigeons.
In the Haupt Garden, there are four additional sculptures: the Heath Hen, the Carolina Parakeet, the Great Auk and the Labrador Duck. Unfortunately, there are no notes accompanying these birds, so I don't know how they died out. I wish they would add some information to the display, so that I could learn something about these species that are no longer with us.
The sculptures are quite nice - very dark and somber looking, as I suppose is only appropriate, given that they have vanished from the earth. I'm not sure where they'll go once they are off display next March, but perhaps they might find permanent homes in the DC area. I noticed that the notes at the Haupt Garden (they have a general description of the project there) indicated that these are the sculptures completed "to date." I can only hope that more will appear in the future.
Verdict: If you're walking past Natural History or on your way past the Castle, take a moment to look at these birds. They are lovely works of art, and a needed reminder of our duty to preserve wildlife.