Sure, Legos are way too heavy as a building material to make a bird that could actually fly, but I feel like physics might give this kingfisher a pass. The techniques and creativity used to craft a visually compelling bird using these building blocks always impress me. I have the birds from Thomas Poulson’s collection sitting on my office shelf right now. My favorite of those is the hummingbird, because it is crafted to not only represent the bird, but also to convey the dynamic, kinetic energy of the bird in motion. Builder ‘rolli’s Kingfisher similarly calls to mind that actually animal moving and living in its environment taking this build beyond the recreation of a snapshot to a representation of the thing itself.
Katrina van Grouw‘s The Unfeathered Bird is a complicated book that combines elegant writing, copious information, and beautiful illustrations with bird anatomy. There may only be one person on earth prepared to handle all of that on her own. She wrote the book. And, it took her over 25 years.
We don’t have anyone that can cope with The Unfeathered Bird on their own. That’s ok. A multifaceted book should get a multifaceted review. So, we created a dream team of reviewers: artist Michele Banks focused on the artistry, Rebecca Heiss (PhD in avian physiology) focused on the avian physiology information, and Josh, me, focused. . .well it is not entirely clear what I focused on, like usual.
My copy of Katrina van Grouw‘s The Unfeathered Bird demanded to be placed on my coffee table. In the same way that everything about a cheetah says fast, everything about The Unfeathered Bird says coffee table book. There are 385 illustrations of 200 bird species. It is 287 pages long and weighs a couple of kilograms. When a book like that asks space on your coffee table, you ask “how much space?”. Fortunately, I have a sturdy coffee table.
I also have two small children (hence the sturdy coffee table). As a result, my first encounter with the content between the covers was not the orderly perusal with wine I had been planning for that night. Instead, it started with my 4-year-old, The Frogger, opening The Unfeathered Bird and asking, while staring at an immaculate illustration of a skinned bird foot, “Daddy, what is this book about?”
“It’s a book about birds. It shows you the insides of birds so we can learn how they work.” Continue reading “The Layers of “The Unfeathered Bird””
I approached this book as a visual artist and a decidedly non-expert reader, and I will admit an initial bias against it. I love color. I was convinced that a coffee-table book of birds drawn without their feathers was like a book on ice cream that featured only the cones.
I was wrong. Continue reading “The Art of “The Unfeathered Bird””
Rebecca earned her master’s degree with a focus in avian ecology at Binghamton University, worked at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, has conducted international research on birds overseas, and completed her PhD in avian physiology the University of Memphis. She now teaches biology at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Math.
After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well. – Albert Einstein
I became a biologist for a reason. It was not that I was particularly good at the sciences, but that I was terrible at art. My stick figures were never going to pay the rent. Perhaps lacking the drive to master any one trade, I’ve dabbled, becoming proficient in a smattering of largely scientific endeavors. It is little wonder then, that Katrina van Grouw’s mastery of multiple fields makes me feel a twinge of jealousy. Continue reading “The Birds of “The Unfeathered Bird””