Late Maine artist’s paintings of birds sat in a Hermon home for 15 years before going on display

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Like the chance sighting of a rare bird, the circumstances under which Maine biologist and artist Walter H. Rich’s exhibition of paintings was shown at the Zillman Art Museum in Bangor were a matter of things happening in the right place. at the right time.

Kendra Raymond, a resident of Hermon, had for years had in her possession a number of gouache and watercolor paintings of New England wild birds by Rich, who was a family friend and a longtime colleague of his great-grandfather, William C. Kendall, in the early 1900s at the office of the US Bureau of Fisheries in Portland.

Rich, born in 1866, was an agent for the bureau between 1913 and 1936. In addition to his scientific duties, he was also an accomplished self-taught artist, creating extremely detailed paintings of birds, fish, and other wildlife. Among his many accomplishments was a book called “Feathered Game of the Northeast”, containing 80 original images of various bird species, along with his written observations of each bird.

“Some of the original images painted for this book are what we have here on display right now,” Zillman Director of Education Rochelle Lawrence said. “It’s not contemporary art, which has been a very unique thing for the museum, because that’s usually what we do.”

The paintings were given to Kendall by Rich, who then gave them to his daughter, Minerva, who gave them to Raymond’s father, Ken Warner. Warner died in 2006 and the paintings went to Raymond.

They sat in a closet in his Hermon home for more than 15 years until last winter when Raymond’s daughter Neily suggested her mother contact Zillman director and curator George Kinghorn to see if he would be interested in the pictures. .

It turned out that the timing couldn’t have been better. The Zillman had recently received a seed grant from the University of Maine Arts Initiative to create an arts education program with the Cobscook Institute in Lubec – something to do with the arts and birds, as Cobscook is renowned for its birding programs and has an educational outreach program with area high school students.

The only problem? The museum didn’t really have any bird-centric art.

“George said, ‘Honestly, you won’t believe what perfect timing that is,'” Raymond said. “They wanted to do something with birds and art, and here we are with these beautiful paintings.”

The two opportunities lined up perfectly. In the spring, Kinghorn, Lawrence and Amber Roth, an ornithologist from the University of Maine, worked with high school students in Cobscook, who each chose a painting and researched the bird species depicted, including woodcocks, sandpipers, mergansers, plovers, geese and avocets. . Each student wrote a statement for each painting, which is displayed next to each image, explaining the unique characteristics of each species.

“It was such an interesting educational expedition for all of us,” Lawrence said. “It all happened so serendipitously, and it’s so good that it all happened here in Maine.”

Meanwhile, museum technician Aaron Pyle framed the 17 paintings, in preparation for the exhibit that would become “Of a Feather”. It is on display until September 3 at the museum in downtown Bangor.

Raymond said she hoped to have made her father, grandmother, great-grandfather and Rich proud to have her work displayed in a museum.

“It’s amazing, because to my knowledge, this is the first exhibition of his work ever mounted, and it’s 70 years after his death,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing, being the custodian of these pieces and sharing them with the world.”

There are five other exhibits on display through September 3 at the Zillman.

They include “Home Fires Burning”, installations by Robin Mandel; “Gemini,” paintings and fabric works by New York artist Deborah Zlotsky; “Lions and Tigers and Nick,” hyperrealistic portraits of big cats and the artist himself by New York painter Nick Sider; “America on a First Name Basis,” oil paintings of small businesses across the country by Matthew Cornell; and “Time and Time Again,” paintings and mixed media by Cary Glovinski.

There are also selections from the museum’s permanent collection, upstairs and downstairs.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free entry.

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