Fourteen finely detailed works from the collection of wildlife artist Rex Brasher are currently on display at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History on the Storrs campus. Brasher, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1869, had a lifelong goal of painting the likeness of every bird in North America from a living specimen in its native habitat. This was a formidable task that had never before been accomplished, even by his predecessor, the famed naturalist John James Audubon.
A self-taught artist, Brasher honed his techniques as he traveled throughout North America painting his subjects. His journeys were largely financed by working at odd jobs, and from winnings from betting on horse races. Thanks to a $700 commission he received in 1911 for illustrating a book, he purchased a farm in Kent, Conn. and resided there until his death in 1960 at age 91.
In 1924, completing a process that had taken him nearly half a century since his initial inspiration as a child, he accomplished his goal of painting all 1200 species and sub-species of birds then listed on the American Ornithologists Union Checklist of North America Birds.
In 1941, the State of Connecticut purchased Brasher’s entire body of work for $74,000. For many years, the paintings were displayed in Harkness Manor at the Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford. However, through the efforts of Carl Rettenmeyer, the Museum of Natural History’s founding director, the collection was transferred from the Department of Environmental Protection to UConn in 1988.
Here, Brasher’s work has been inventoried and housed in climate controlled conditions at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center that are designed to preserve the paintings for generations to come.
The exhibition is made possible through a collaborative effort by the Museum, the Dodd Center, and The Rex Brasher Association Inc. of Kent, Conn. It will run through July 31 and is free and open to the public. Museum hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.