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The heART of Birding Portraits

By Carolyn Allen

Birds are the most accessible of all wildlife. They visit our homes, sing for us and share their daily rituals for our viewing pleasure. Artists have been endlessly fascinated by the scientific and aesthetic observation of birds. They carry many emotional messages as practical lessons in courtship, traveling light, and fluid community life.

A variety of nature artists present the breadth of our birding heritage in their art -- from the ever-popular greeting card tradition to the home décor urge and the natural heritage journey. From chickadees to eagles to farm animals -- the creativity is boundless.


Steve Sierigk of Acorn Designs of Trumansburg, NY chose an acorn for this company symbol because it suggests integrity, simplicity and creative potential -- a fitting vision for an environmental company that focuses on sustainable materials, nature themes and now -- economic justice. Steve makes it easy to bring the dignity and sanctity of all life into everyday retailing. "Together we can support a viable, diverse, rich ecosystem. We are here to share this wonderful planet," he explains.

Acorn Designs represents twelve widely dispersed artists from North Carolina to Idaho to California, and of course, New York. Their 24 page catalog includes cards, notepads, bookmarks, journals, tote bags, art prints and a host of related products and displays.

Steve has always used recycled papers and now he has added agricultural papers (kenaf, hemp) and non-tree papers. He just discovered a handmade paper from Nepal made from Lokta -- a sustainable understory shrub from high elevations. It's appeal goes beyond beauty, "Fair trade and sustainability are new issues a lot of customers appreciate," says Steve the entomologist by training, and artist by choice.

Acorn Designs started a line of cards in 1981 and marketing has expanded from craft shows to local shops and now nationally through gift shops at national parks, nature shops, bird stores and garden centers. Their continual best selling products are notecards in which poetry and natural history help develop the ecological themes. Popular new items include a line of small journals and favorite birds such as chickadees and herons. A new line of domestic animal products will be launched in 2003 "because we can point out the beauty as well as issues in an open ended way that supports the dignity of all life," he notes.

Steve writes the natural history notes for all their products and is a bird artist, as well. He spent time living with ornithologists Lang Elliott and Rick Bonney after grad school and "they turned me onto the world of birding," he says with a happy grin. Acorn Designs
5066 Mott Evans Road
Trumansburg, NY 14886


For Sue Shane, birds have always been part of family life. She just didn't discover the joy of painting them until she had a week of solitude in which to practice this new skill. Sue's approach is to capture the essence of a bird. A robin is just different than a blue jay. It stands on the lawn with a special stance, an attitude that is unique to its behavior. That's what I try to capture," she explains.

Sue's graphics background has helped her develop a unique process that far exceeds the offset printing options she explored. Her archival-quality prints, art cards and even decorative tiles and art mugs are produced in her own printing studio. "Images jump off the page. My cards are "art cards" on heavy, textured paper. I fuss with color and brightness to the point that people ask if they are all painted individually."

Retailers are given personal service and no minimums. "I let them try out a few -- I understand that small shops have tight profit margins so I get some itty bitty orders in the beginning, and some very large orders after clients see the quality of my work."

Sue has noticed a big increase in nature participation recently. "People are gravitating toward birding festival weekends and parks. What's not to like about going out to look at birds? And they feel like they are learning about the natural world, caring about it, and passing it on to others," she says.

Sue Shane Gallery
404 Wendy Way
Mill Valley, CA 94941


Earl Henry, Sr. caught the birding fever at age 12 when he began collecting Arm & Hammer bird cards -- like today's baseball cards -- with a bird on one side and notes on the reverse. His passion grew and in a short span of time, he not only became a war hero, but left a naturalist's legacy to be slowly unraveled by his son, Earl Henry, Jr.

This birding legacy includes 45 bird paintings, 135 mounted specimens in lifelike poses and a recording of more than 60 bird calls. Earl Junior says, "I was born just a few weeks before my father died on the last Navy ship sunk during World War II -- the USS Indianapolis. My mother's passion about her beloved's talent and courage surrounded me as I grew up. I'm proud to be part of the effort to preserve and share his beautiful work. I've hunted details of his life through his birding travels, through his art, and through the people who knew him. It has been inspiring to find a mention of him in a Christmas bird count -- or hear his bird calls -- or see his paintings come off the press."

Earl's mother and he have donated 87 of the mounted specimens to the Ijames Nature Center in Knoxville, TN, and have now issued 16 of the paintings as prints and 15 as notecards. The limited edition prints are signed by the artist's son and stamped by the estate symbol to verify authenticity.

"Marketing is low key. We send a packet of the cards to stores to show prospective customers who might want to buy cards or prints. This is a family effort to share the work and story of this dedicated artist -- so we share his story through a program and his paintings through quality reproductions."

The sixtieth anniversary of the July 30, 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis is coming up and the 900 men who lost their lives will be honored by their families across the country. Earl's inspiring program tells the story of this Tennessean, American and birder through his paintings, mounted birds and the recording of bird imitations captured in 1944. This heart-warming American story is a tribute to the heart and soul nurtured by a family's shared love of nature. Earl Henry Bird Prints
436 Westview Avenue
Nashville, TN 37205


Cheri Wenner is a partner in Aurora Art Company and has applied her ten years of professional illustration to her interest in birds and nature. She starts with her own photos and drawings produced in her western New York back yard that attracts birds with its pond, trees and eight feeders!

Her vibrant watercolor technique and accurate detail bring dimensionality and vibrant life to her "Songbird Collection" of art prints, plaques and notecards. Cheri started marketing her line of art products in 2003 and is expanding to nationwide birding stores and catalogs. Her top-selling "Welcome" plaque is versatile, at 6 'x20" and ready to hang at entrances, patios and porches. The art is mounted to a high quality fiber board and sealed with non-glare laminate.

The birds" unique characters have attracted Cheri's artistic sensibilities. "I noticed all the different personalities while spending time with them. For instance, the chickadee is so bold & brave for someone so small! And goldfinches -- they want to see the world! Cheri's vivid observations are translated into colorful habitat and unique character.

The artists of today's birding niche -- and their art -- are diverse, passionate, and have exciting stories to tell visually and personally. Now you can share nature's uplifting messages in living color!

Aurora Art Company
East Aurora, New York