Brasher art to be shown at Kent library

Kent Memorial Library will present an exhibit, “Secrets of the Friendly Woods — Rex Brasher’s Birds,” July 1 through Aug. 30.

A family program of the exhibit will be given July 23 at 10:30 a.m. and a presentation and video about Brasher, followed by a reception, will be offered Aug. 20 at 4 p.m. at the library.

At age 8, Brasher decided to paint all the birds in North America from life in their natural habitats.

He traveled the continent to study birds and sketched them in the field, financing his expeditions by working as a lithographer and playing the horses.

Despite having no formal art training, he painted some 1,200 species and subspecies of birds, 3,000 individual birds, including males, females and juveniles, and over 350 species of trees and shrubs.

Twice he destroyed all his paintings because they were not good enough and started over.

Brasher purchased a farm on the border between Kent and Amenia, N.Y., which he named Chickadee Valley, in 1911.

He became involved in the community and was one of the founders of the Kent Art Association.

By working daily from sunup until the mid-afternoon, Brasher finally completed 874 watercolors of all the birds in North America by the mid-1920s.

He wanted to keep the collection intact, but he also wanted a wider audience for his work.

He decided to have black- and-white prints made from the original paintings, and, using an air-brush technique, hand colored some 90,000 prints that were then bound into books.

“Birds and Trees of North America” was sold by subscription and contained 12 hand-bound volumes.

Each plate was numbered according to the American Ornithological Society’s system and accompanied by a text page.

The complete sets that still exist today are held privately or can be found in public or university libraries.

Because he launched the project on the eve of the Great Depression and some subscribers backed out, this exhibit contains some of the completed original prints, as well as Brasher’s observations about the birds.

In 1941, Brasher sold all the original watercolor paintings to the state of Connecticut with the expectation that they would be housed in a museum.

For many years, the paintings could be viewed at the Harkness Museum in Waterford, but they were removed in 1988 and placed in conservation storage in the Dodd Center at the University of Connecticut.

In cooperation with the UCONN Foundation and the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History, the Rex Brasher Association commissioned digital photographs of 14 original paintings of threatened and endangered bird species in Connecticut and the Northeast, which are also part of this exhibit.

For more information, all the Main Street library at 860-927-3761.