Thumbnail image Arthur Singer

[John] Welcome all to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Monday night seminar where, I’m John Fitzpatrick, I’m director of the Lab and privileged to have you all here. We’re especially privileged to have two eminent, highly-trained artists in their own right, who share the last name of the, of this, of the featured artist around you in the room here. Alan and Paul Singer are here to talk tonight about an American master about whom they’ve just published a truly amazing book, beautifully put together and written and designed, and it’s about a genuine American master.

When we speak about the history of ornithology in, in America, we routinely talk about the the great scientists who’ve made it, made their contributions through technical literature. But we also often bring to mind great artists as well, people like George Miksch Sutton who did both. And so on and when we here at the Lab of Ornithology talk about the history of ornithology, we also include those who made enormous contributions with their eyes, their passions, and their unique talents to communicate nature to people. I consider Arthur Allen to be one of the greats. Arthur Allen, he was too right?


Arthur Singer to be one of the greats. And I want to know of the group here, who’s here tonight, how many of you went out and bought this book [holding up the book Birds of North America] when it first came out?

There’s a lot of hands here, and I’m one of them. I was 13 at the time. I still have that original copy, in fact my wife keeps her life list in it. And we cherish these beautiful originals, and when this book came out, the Chan Robbins, Arthur Singer guide, Zim never gets very much play in those authors’ names, but this is often referred to as the Robbins and Singer guide and it was a revolutionary guide in his time.

You may be talking about tonight so I won’t steal thunder, but this guide stood side by side and every bit chin to chin with the Peterson guide that had become so famous, partly because it was the first guide to put all the birds together of North America, but it also put the maps on the same page as the painting and so on. But it really was actually the guide that had for the first time birds in their lifelike poses with beautiful vignettes of habitats that communicated themselves in ways that no previous guide ever had.

[Holding up the book Birds of the World]

For ornithologists, or let’s say for kids who were going to later become ornithologists, this is another great book in the history of American ornithology. The first really well done, artistically magnificent compendium of all of the bird families of the planet. And this together with a little yellow miniature version or abridged version, gave kids like me the chance to stay up late at night poring over the fact that oh my goodness the world is filled with lively, colorful things that I can’t wait to go see. That was a consequence of the great genius of Arthur Singer, and so it’s a huge privilege to welcome the two sons. I have to say the Singer apples must have been pretty heavy, because they didn’t fall too far from the tree.


I’ll introduce very briefly, concisely, as concisely as I can, the two. Alan Singer, who’s here nearby, had, got his BA from Cooper Union and a master’s degree here at Cornell in the art and architecture department in the mid-‘70s. He’s a painter, he’s had numerous solo exhibits of his own work all over the northeast and in New York City. He’s a printmaker, he’s an author, he’s a blogger, is he a tweeter?


And he’s also an educator. He’s now and has been since 1987, a professor at the Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology in the School of Art. Among Alan’s distinctions is that he had a chance to work with his father Arthur in the 1982 production of the postage stamps that depicted all 50 of the state birds of the United States. And perhaps we’ll hear a little bit about that tonight. The birds and flowers of the United States. Alan played a big role in the flower part, as well as the design, no doubt.

Brother Paul, who will be the first of our two speakers here also didn’t fall far from the tree. BA, BFA, pardon me, from the Philadelphia College of Art and a master’s from the Pratt Institute in Manhattan? The Manhattan, there Brooklyn, Brooklyn, pardon me. I shouldn’t make that mistake, should I? Because Brooklyn is where you are today, Paul. Since 1980 he’s been, has established the Paul Singer Design Studios, responsible for some great museum exhibitry, brochures, books and the like. Exhibit graphics featuring natural history, cultural history, ethnography, and maritime history. Among the many works that Paul has contributed to were books relating to the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 right.

So once again I’ll take no more time, a great pleasure to introduce the two sons, and two loving brothers of one another, of Arthur Singer. We’ll start with Paul Singer.


[Paul] Thank you, John, and I want to thank the Cornell Lab for inviting us to give this talk tonight. This year will be the centennial of my father’s birth. A few years ago as I sat, not fully employed, a few contracts had ended. I was wondering where the next project might be. It occurred to me that something that I’ve been thinking about for years was right in front of me, and that was my father’s great career, and the great art that he gave everyone.

So within about a week or two, I had realized you better not wait for anybody else to do this book because you may never see it in your lifetime. The responsibility is going to have to be your own. And when I accepted that reality it became clear to me what I was going to do. Within about a week or two I had outlined what I wanted to do in the book, and I was fortunate to have a great library of painted images that my father had had the foresight to have photographed in his, in his life, of the paintings that mattered to him the most.

He, he assumed that for one or another of his exhibits that he would need to be able to reproduce them in color, so he had them professionally photographed. And when I began the the conceptualization and the writing of the book, I had pretty close to all of his important paintings already in reproducible form. In other words I had high-resolution scans. I also had a treasure trove of family photos that went back to probably when he was a teenager. Certainly by the time he was in Cooper Union. And so I realized that most of the images that I would need to do a book like this we already had. I didn’t have to track down, you know, his collectors, and ask permission to have them, paintings photographs, and so I had pretty much the mother lode right right in my hand.

And being a graphic designer I thought well this is a good opportunity to create the book that you would like to see, and you know, designed and printed, and available to the public, you can do that. So for the next several months and for about the half a year of 2015, that’s what I proceeded to do. And in 2015 just happened to be the 25th anniversary of my father’s passing. And by the time our book was published it was the centennial of his birth.

So I’m going to take you now through how he became the artist that he became, and we’re going to start right in the very beginning. And let’s hope I do this right.

[Slide text: ARTHUR SINGER: FIFTY YEARS OF WILDLIFE ART The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Nov. 6, 2017]

50 years of wildlife art. I would say I didn’t want to stretch that and say 60 years of wildlife art, but actually he started his first wonderful drawings probably by the age of 12.

[Slide text: ON AUDUBON AVE.

-Arthur grew up in New York City. His family lived at 326 Audubon Ave.

-Arthur drew from his early child. Whatever fascinated him: Biplanes, dirigibles, the GW Bridge, the NY Central Railroad and pictures he saw in magazines such as the National Geographic, Argosy and others. He was inspired by the paintings of Wilhelm Kuehnert, Carl Rungius, Charles R. Knight, Alexander Wilson and Louis Agassiz Fuertes, and began drawing animals seen in these magazines.

-Regular trips to the Bronx Zoo c. 1929-1930

-Draws from life filling many sketchbooks. We still have almost a hundred drawings but he must have done many more.

-Regularly visits the American Museum of Natural History.

-About the age of 15 he sells a series of his animal drawings to Frank Buck, film-maker and “Great White Hunter” who sees him drawing at the zoo.

-Meets Dr. R. C. Murphy, Curator of Ornithology at AMNH. Watches the dioramas of Edmund “Perry” Wilson and Francis Lee Jacques being painted at the AMNH. Mentored by H. E. Anthony, Curator of Mammalogy]

Now he grew up in Manhattan on Audubon Avenue, what a coincidence you know. And drew everything that interested him as a child. And that was a lot of things. So barges, dirigibles, the George Washington Bridge, and anything that he saw that he was fascinated with, he drew. That was the way he saw it. He was an artist, before he knew he was an artist.

His family noticed the talent, and they noticed that some of the magazines that he would look at and maybe copy pictures out of, happened to be the National Geographic, and he happened to be copying and very interested in animal pictures, the mammals, the birds, and so forth.

So by about 1929, there began regular excursions to the Bronx zoo. I have one of those drawings here, that’s going to be the next one you’re going to see. And he, like many young artists, my brother, myself, we filled up dozens and dozens of sketchbooks, because that’s what young artists really do, they get obsessed with drawing. And that’s what my father got obsessed with. I have no idea how many drawings he really did, but he did a lot. I have about 90 wonderful drawings. He must have done hundreds and hundreds.

So he was noticed that the Bronx Zoo, he was, and then of course he went up to the Museum Natural History and saw the dioramas being painted in the late 1920s. Francis Lee Jacques and Perry Wilson, and he talked to them.

[Image: Drawing of lovebird, trogon, and toucans by Arthur Singer]

Now what we see here is what I think, from all the drawings I’ve gone through that I have, this is the earliest bird drawing. And I think we can tell that because if you look closely at the lettering, it’s the lettering of maybe somebody that’s 11 or 12. So I’m gonna go out on a limb and say he was probably 11 or 12, possibly even younger, when he did this drawing. So he was already fascinated with with birds, and larger animals but I’m not going to show you that tonight, I’m just gonna show you the birds.

[Image: Drawing and sketches of birds including crane and stork]

This is done probably a few years later, maybe a year or two later. And you can see that there’s an elegance of line already. I would assume he was somewhere around 13 when he did this. And he’s he’s into it, you can tell. I love, I love the crowned crane, it’s just wonderful.

[Image: Drawing of cock-of-the-rock, hornbill, and toucan]

I think these might have come a little later, maybe he’s 14 to 15 years old. I know for a fact that the of the cock-of-the-rock and the casque, casque bill, hornbill were in, were shown later in 1942, in his first solo show at the Bronx Zoo. They offered him a show because they considered him like, a rising and important young artist. These were in that show. He couldn’t be there because he was in Europe at the time, in World War II.

[Image: Drawing of ostrich and several dove and pigeon species]

Now we go to something that’s possibly a little bit later, if, he’s maybe 15 or 16, it’s the early ‘30s. He’s done this wonderful ostrich, this is. All the earlier drawings are all lead or they’re colored pencils. The ostrich now is a wash, an ink wash and color. And you, we have these wonderful pigeons and doves, that you can see on the right.

[Slide text: COOPER UNION 1935-39

-Fascinated by the Neolithic cave art of Lascaux and Altamira reproduced in portfolios he begins experiments highly stylizing and simplifying birds and mammals. This continues through college and into the 1940s.

-His professor introduces him to the Elephant folios of J.J. Audubon. Cooper Union owned a set at that time. Sells his animal designs to a wallpaper company. Realizes he must take a different route to realize his dream of becoming a wildlife artist.

-Graduates from Cooper with Honors in 1939. Accomplished in drawing, painting, advertising design and calligraphy. Goes into advertising with Ben Sackheim, an account person. Marries Edith (Judy) Goulfine in 1940. Works at Ben Sackheim Advertising until the outbreak of WWII.]

By the time he gets to 18 years old he he easily gets into Cooper Union. He was a star student there. He becomes interested and fascinated by what he’s now being exposed to, that he didn’t know about before. And he gets quite taken with Neolithic art, which he saw in maybe the National Geographic, and portfolios of prints from Lascaux and Altamira, and he bought those portfolios. And it influences the work from the time.

So throughout Cooper Union he wasn’t doing realistic portrayal of animals anymore, he was doing highly stylized interpretations.

[Photo: Young Arthur Singer wearing a tie, sitting and drawing in front of a bookcase]

Oh here’s a picture from, of young Arthur before he went to Cooper. We figure he’s about sixteen years old here. This would be in his room in his home, and we can see some of his art books. He’s already collecting a picture folder of, from magazines, he cuts all the pictures of animals and birds out, and saves them and mounts them, book by book, all the cats, you know, and then he breaks it down into finer delineation, so the tigers are in one, the lions are in another.

[Image: Stylized African animals, including zebras, ostriches, wildebeest, cranes, antelopes, and more]

And here’s an example of what I’m talking about much more decorative highly stylized, fascinating to look at. He did many, many of these, they’re really wonderful but they’re nothing like his later work. These became decorative in the way that he actually sold designs to a famous wallpaper company, Schumacher, and however it didn’t quite jive with the idea that he wanted to be a wildlife artist. Because he had already made up his mind, it’s just how do you do that in the Depression, when you know nobody’s interested in paying any for that. So these are very interesting studies.

[Slide text: THE WAR YEARS

-Drafted into the army in 1942. Serves in the Signal Corps creating camouflage for visual deception. Paints watercolors of European landscapes, portraits of his comrades and images of war. Watercolors reproduced recently in The Ghost Army, Beyer 2015.

-Honored with first one-man show at the Heads & Horns Gallery in the Bronx Zoo (1942) attended by his wife, Judy, friends and family. NY Post devotes a full page reproducing images from the exhibit. Returns from the war in 1945.

Image: Portrait of a young man]

And and then of course he graduates Cooper, he’s already met his wife to be, they marry. He goes into advertising, that’s the way you would make money then. He hasn’t stopped his love for wildlife at all, but he goes into the army and he goes into the Signal Corps, where you know all the talented artistic people were were directed to. And they designed camouflage and various visual and audio deception, and were highly successful, and the story, that’s a whole other story. It’s called The Ghost Army, the book is out, the documentary film is out. And he played his part in that, and he’s featured in that book.

And he was known in his in his group for the portraits he could paint of his buddies.

[Image: Watercolor scene of snowy landscape with houses and trees]

Here as a picture. Why is that up there? Here’s a picture of a snowy landscape that he composed. He saw one morning, he knew he wanted to paint it, it took six sheets of watercolor paper. He taped them together. Somebody offered a warm place for him to stay, and he spent the day painting this, and it’s one of his early masterpieces.

Yeah, wonderful, a beautiful piece. Just sublime. Anyhow after the war, he had a show of his watercolors in 1946, from the war.

[Images: Three portraits of men from the war]

These are a couple of the portraits of some of his buddies. We have no idea of how many he did, because he tended to give them away if he was asked. Alan and I share about 12 of them. He might have done 20 or 30 or more, but nobody could paint a watercolor portrait like he could.


-Resumes career in advertising at Ben Sackheim Advertising.

-The Singers begin a family. First-born Paul (1946) followed by Alan (1950). Advertising career is successful but Arthur’s goal remains becoming a wildlife artist. Begins free-lance illustration. Takes assignments where he can illustrate birds, mammals, insects or snakes.

-Field & Stream, Argosy, Sports Illustrated. Illustrates the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1955 in an article by Robert Cushman Murphy. Illustrates 6-7 other articles for SI, Genealogy of Dogs among them. Does his first non-commissioned bird paintings which are influenced by Audubon and J. Barraband.

-Illustrates 12 page section on birds in World Book Encyclopedia. Dr. Robert Cushman Murphy and Dean Amadon provide ornithological guidance.

-Completes Toucans (1954), Great Blue Heron (1955) and Brown Pelican (1956-7) paintings. Demand for Singer’s illustration grows: contacted by American Home magazine in 1956]

So after the war he he goes into advertising and he keeps his up he keeps himself open to any possibility to do nature illustration. And by the early ‘50s he starts getting opportunities to do that. Field & Stream, Argosy, the sporting magazines, the hunting magazines is where he got early work. And then one of his friends who was an art director at Sports Illustrated commissioned him to do a tree of birds that was written by Robert Cushman Murphy, a very famous ornithologist of the time. So I’m going to show you a few of these pictures. He did other, he did other projects at that time, World Book Encyclopedia was one of them. And they led to a very important project with the American Home magazine, which I’m going to show you some pictures of.

[Image: Drawing of a tree with a wide variety of bird species in and around it]

So this is the Sports Illustrated cover, very decorative, kind of reminiscent of what he did in the 1940s.

[Image: Painting of two toucans perched on tree branches]

And this is what he did afterwards. He was influenced by Jacques Barraband, and the Le Vaillant prints. They’re famous for Parrots of the World, and other books that were done in the late 18th and early 19th century. And this is a painting that he did around 1952, about 1952.

[Image: Painting of three brown pelicans in a tree]

About 1954 he did another major painting, the brown pelicans, and this is in gouache. And it was at RIT, in the exhibit at RIT, a magnificent piece.


-Arthur meets Don Eckelberry’s wife Virginia in the early 1950s at Ben Sackheim Advertising. Arthur and Don Eckelberry become friends about 1956.

-Between 1956 and 1957 Singer illustrates State Birds & Flowers prints for American Home magazine. The portfolio sells 14 million copies over the next decade. The decorative illustrated prints are an artistic homage to Audubon. Its commercial success contributes to the recognition that there is a lively market for prints of birds and animals.

-Illustrates a series of covers for The Reader’s Digest.]

Arthur met a close friend, later became a close friend, Don Eckelberry, a very famous bird artist, ornithologist, through his wife Virginia, who worked at the same advertising agency as Arthur did in the 1950s. And they became friends, and as kids we often went out there to visit, when we were 12 years old, about 12, 13 years old. When I was 13 years old, Alan was a little younger.

So he gets contacted by the American Home magazine. They want to do a series of bird and flower prints, decorative for homes. They first published them in the magazine, and the magazines sold out, just completely, unexpectedly sold out. So that they they started selling portfolios of eight prints because they couldn’t keep up with the demand.

Over the years they sold something like 14 million portfolios of eight prints, so out there there’s about a hundred million prints. I don’t know how many survived, but you’ll see tons of them on eBay any day of the week. Just go Arthur Singer birds and you’ll see them. And he became more well-known, he was contacted by the Reader’s Digest, I think he might have done maybe six covers for the Reader’s Digest, and numerous other magazines, which led to, and here’s one of these magnificent American Home prints…

[Image: Painting of three American goldfinches on a sunflower, surrounded by several other flowers]

The goldfinches, just wonderful.

[Images: Three additional bird paintings, one with two species of bluebirds, one with meadowlarks, and one with grouse, pheasant, and quail, all surrounded by flowers]

And here are three more, there was eight altogether. They’re out there, people own them.


Contacted by Golden Press to illustrated cute/paste stamp book on birds. Later, Singer is contracted to illustrate the Giant Golden Book of Birds with Robert Porter Allen. On seeing the quality of the art Editor Herbert Zim decides Birds of the World should be an adult book and hires ornithologist Dr. Oliver Austin as writer. Arthur consults staff on AMNH on regular basis borrowing bird skins for scientific accuracy. R. C. Murphy, Dean Amadon, John Bull, Charles O’Brien, Tom Gilliard are among the AMNH staff he regularly sees.

-After four years work, book is published in 1961. It is translated into eight languages. Sells several hundred thousand copies over two years.

-Takes 3-week trip to East Africa with Clifford Ashely. Does extensive research and photography at N’gorongoro Crater, Lake Magadi, and throughout Kenya.

-Invited to appear on the Today Show in 1961 to discuss the making of Birds of the World]

And they led to a commission to do a stamp, a cut and, a cut-and-paste stamp book of birds, and which led eventually to Birds of the World. And although it started with Robert Porter Allen being the writer, Golden Press hired Oliver Austin, and under the direction of Herbert Zim assembled a team. Arthurr started this project about 1957, and the staff at the Museum of Natural History were his consultants, so Dean Amadon Roger Cushman Murphy, Robert Cushman Murphy, John Bull, Charles O’Brien, Tom Gilliard were some of the people that he consulted with there. And you know everything had to be scientifically accurate, so, it was. The book was very successful, sold, was eventually translated into eight languages, and sold several hundred thousand copies, and you can still buy it today, although you’re buying it through eBay, or a second-hand seller.

To reward himself he took his first big trip to Africa for three weeks, you know, carrying his gigantic long lens, you know, which weighed a ton. But he managed to, you know, photograph hundreds if not thousands of photographs, came back with material that he painted as late as nineteen, the 1980s. I’m gonna show you a painting later called Flamingo Ballet, we don’t own it anymore but it’s in a collection. And it was based on the sightings he made at Lake Magadi.

[Photo: Arthur Singer in a suit looking at paperwork]

And here’s a picture of of him from a television program that he was invited to be on, explaining the process of doing Birds of the World. This would have been, maybe 1961-62, something like that, on The Today Show, The Today Show in 1961 or whatever.

[Photo: Birds of the World cover, with a painting of various bird species perched together on a branch and two additional birds below]

And here’s the cover of Birds of the World, which we didn’t see before, but and of course he designed the cover, designed the layout, designed the typography, because Arthur was an all-around artist. I mean there was no detail that he didn’t want to be part of.

So let’s see, this is not moving to the next slide, but we want it to.


So these things are inevitable, you know. It has to happen, but it’s… [inaudible] so I’m going to show you a couple of the plates from this, you’re you you have probably already seen one or two of them, because they’re behind us.

[Image: Painting of antbirds, antshrikes, pittas, and more birds]

But this is antbirds, and antshrikes, and pittas, and why is that popping up? Am I touching something? Oh, am I touching something? On the bottom? I didn’t. You mean here? Just this? Oh okay, I must have put my finger on that.

[Image: Painting of a variety of hummingbirds]

And here we have another beautiful painting, which is actually part of the cover of our book. I couldn’t resist. It just was so right for the cover.

[Image: Painting of quetzals, trogons, and kingfisher species]

And here’s another plate that we still retain, we still own, thank God, the quetzals and the kingfishers. And you know the book, as I said, sold in Japan, it sold all over Europe. It is considered a classic today, and it led to a string of other successful books, the next of which is Birds of North America.


-Golden decides to challenge Peterson’s field ride and contracts Arthur, Bertel Bruun and Chandler Robbins in 1962. The book contains many new innovations like sonograms, habitat details, range maps, silhouettes of typical poses, and information opposite the illustrations.

-Arthur consults regularly with R.C. Murphy and John Bull at the AMNH. The Guide is completed in three years. Published in 1966 it has to date sold about seven million copies.

-Receives the first Augustus St. Gaudens award from Cooper Union.

Image: Birds of North America cover, with painting of three bunting species]

And this was, Golden had the idea, or maybe it was Herbert Zim who had the idea, to why, to take on, you know, Roger Tory Peterson’s guide. You know, they thought it was a little old-fashioned, it was a little stiff, that it didn’t, it didn’t show you enough clues about how a bird perches, you know it didn’t show you the kind of habitat that it’ll, you know, that the birds lived in, and, and the text was like fifty pages in the back, you know the text did not match side by side with the illustrations.

So the Golden guide came along, and it was the number one guide at the time. And it led to, of course, oh yeah many other, you know contemporary guides that have taken something from it. Yes and the ah, yes, so yes it sold millions of copies.

[Images: Paintings of finches and woodpeckers from Birds of North America]

Here a couple of plates from it. Unfortunately most of them are lost now. And when the company went bankrupt. And this led to you know, many of the books of which I won’t talk about zoo animals because I’m only talking about birds today.


And cats because I am only talking about birds today.

[Slide text: BIRDS OF EUROPE

Photo: Arthur Singer and Prince Philip with the book Birds of Europe]

But it led to Birds of Europe, which was started about 1967 or ’68, something like that. They published a larger format book and a smaller guidebook. And here’s a picture of Arthur invited to Windsor Castle, I guess, and he’s giving a copy of the book to Prince Philip. And he gave an original from the book, an oil painting of the goshawk, for the collection of Prince Philip.

[Slide text: Begun in 1967, BOE comprised a larger volume (1969) and a field guide published in 1970 authored by Bertel Bruun. Arthur & Bertel travel to Europe in 1970 visiting Norway, Sweden, birding in the Cota Donana, the Camargue (France), Greece, Turkey and Israel.

-Arthur is invited to Windsor Castle in 1970 and presents Prince Philip with a painting of the Goshawk reproduced in BOE.

Birds of Europe (larger volume) contained the innovation of oil paintings for each family. Throughout the guide there were 27 oil paintings and six gouaches. The BOE guide sells well and is still in print (Philips) after 47 years.

-Golden publishes Zoo Animals in 1967, Families of Birds in 1971 (Austin) and Cats in 1973. Contractual difficulties between Zim and Golden lead to the breakup of the Golden team and the remake of the dollar guide of Birds of America is abandoned. The team founds the Vineyard Press in 1973.]

He and the author Bertel Bruun, later I think was around this time, traveled around Europe to a number of countries. They also had a couple of audiences with the king of Norway and the king of Sweden, but they did a lot of birding down in the Cota Donana, the Camargue, they went to Israel, they went to Turkey, they were in Greece, and basically they got a good amount of European birding in. It was in this Birds of Europe that my father really got a little bit out of the usual painting of identification plates and into composing paintings, and he did some magnificent paintings. I think there were about twenty seven paintings in the book, of which better than half of them are oil paintings and some of them were you know quite amazing. We don’t have too many of those anymore.

The creative team at Golden broke up in the late 1960- about 1971. There was some legal issues and so the team went over and founded Vineyard Press.

[Image: Painting of two snowy owls on rocks]

Here’s a painting from the Birds of Europe, one of the first snowy owl paintings Arthur did. This was in his first really big show at the Hammer Gallery, and this sold there.

[Images: Paintings of a pair of loons on the water and three pairs of eiders]

And we have a painting of loons on on the left and eider ducks on the right. And the loons you know there’s a little bit of that Bruno Liljefors, a painter that he really admired, I guess a Swedish—was he Swedish or maybe Norwegian? Swedish.

[Image: Painting of puffins on a rocky cliff with several flying in the background]

And here’s another painting from the book of the common puffin and this also sold at that show. Terrific painting.

[Slide text: THE LIFE OF THE HUMMINGBIRD; Image: Cover of The Life of the Hummingbird with two hummingbirds flying near a flower]

This was followed in the early ‘70s, maybe it was published in 1973, The Life of the Hummingbird. Arthur went to meet the author, Alexander Skutch, either I think was in Costa Rica, and they spent a couple of weeks together. And Skutch wrote, is but maybe one of the most famous ornithologists of the 20th century. I think he wrote somewhere upwards of 45 to 50 books, you know obviously this is one of them.

But he wrote many books on Central American and South American birds, and on botany, and on philosophy, and he lived to the age of a hundred. He passed away, I think in the year 2000. So they had a great time together.

[Slide text: Arthur’s first book for Vineyard is The Life of the Hummingbird, authored by Alexander Skutch. Arthur travels to Costa Rica to meet Skutch and discuss the project. They become friends and collaborators, birding at Monteverde and other locations over several weeks.

Photos: Singer and Skutch in Costa Rica]

And and here’s Arthur in maybe 1971 and Alexander Skutch, and they hit it off, you know I’m sure they were birds of the feather, you know, they they appreciated the same things, what’s what’s important in life.

[Images: Painting of streamer-tailed hummingbird and three other hummingbird paintings]

This one, I think we have this in the back, the streamer-tailed hummingbird. But these are several of the plates from the book. I think he Illustrated maybe around 90 species in the book. I have to admit I have no idea how many species of hummingbirds there are in Central and South and North America ,but probably more than that.


The Life of the Hummingbird is followed by Birds of the Ocean and Birds of Seven Continents, illustrated between 1973 and 1976. BOTO text remained incomplete at due date. Vineyard hires Oliver Austin to complete it.

-In 1976, Albert Leventhal, Vineyard’s publisher dies suddenly. Vineyard declares insolvency, leaving Birds of Seven Continents and BOTO to be abandoned although the art is complete. Arthur later gifts the art from BOTO to the AMNH. Each book contained over 110 illustrated plates.

-Arthur continues to take free-lance assignments for National Geographic, Audubon magazine, Defenders of Wildlife, and commercial companies like Lennox China, Franklin Mint.]

In the mid-seventies, whoops I did it again, whoa, whoa.


Oh there it is. Very good. In the mid-seventies two of the books that he had completed, and due to be published, remained unpublished, and to this day unpublished. The president of the company and the, died suddenly, the company failed. And Birds of the Ocean never got published, and Birds of Seven Continents never got published.

I recently oh about a year or two ago visited Birds of the Ocean at the Museum of Natural History in the lab, in the ornithology department and they showed me the plates, and I was just stunned because I had never seen them being painted, and they were magnificent.

But you know, it’s publishing and, and after, after that another book came out an English, pelagic birds of, I think the birds of, I forget the title, but it’s on pelagic birds. And it was, it was too late, it couldn’t, there was no way they could resuscitate the book, and it just went away. And you know, in the last year of my father’s life he he decided to give the entire work to the Museum of Natural History for all the assistance they had provided him over 40 or more years.

So they own it now, although they’re willing to publish it, and I have often thought it’s possible to get it published, it might be very difficult. Anyhow the other book was Birds of Seven Continents and we’re gonna see one of those plates now.

[Image: Three paintings from Birds of the Ocean, of eiders, shearwaters, and terns]

Oh that’s Birds of the Ocean, that’s three pages of Birds of the Ocean. We have eiders, we have shearwaters, we have terns.

[Image: Painting of various eagles from Birds of Seven Continents]

And here’s one of the pages from Birds of the Seven Continents. I guess this is on the eagles. Harpy eagle over on the on the right-hand, and the secretary bird, and an osprey.

[Image: Painting of blackbirds, meadowlark, and grackles from Birds of Seven Continents]

And and here’s some blackbirds, and yellow-headed blackbirds, and meadowlarks, and red-shouldered blackbirds, and grackles. There’s another plate, of which there were something like between 110 and 120 plates. I figured that this possibly was a smaller version of Birds of the World. It goes family by family, quite an interesting bunch of plates, and some of them are amazingly spectacular, so I was left to do this book, too, but I don’t know if we can do that.

[Photo: Don Eckelberry, Roger Tory Peterson, and Arthur Singer standing outside in Ithaca, NY]

Here’s a day in Ithaca shared by my father on the on the right, with that goofy smile, and Roger Tory Peterson in the center, talking to Don Eckelberry, who was a real character. Don is a person that you only meet once in your life, he was like truly amazing. He could tell stories for a day, and he would probably have hardly scratched the surface, and good stories too. Peterson I didn’t know very well, but my brother and I spent many days in many evenings at Don Eckelberry’s house, so he was quite a great character, and quite a great artist also.


Between the mid-1960s and 1987, Singer illustrated numerous articles on birds in Audubon magazine, National Geographic, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural History (AMNH) and others. He never missed a deadline. For his dedication and excellence, he was awarded the Hal Borland award in 1985 by the Audubon Society. Image: Painting of a variety of albatrosses and other pelagic birds]

Conservation magazines. Well by the early 1960s, they were contacting Arthur to do covers, and to do articles, illustrate articles. Natural History magazine which is I guess the house organ of the Museum of Natural History, Audubon magazine, National Geographic he did several projects for, Defenders of Wildlife he did some prints for, and in the mid-‘80s Audubon awarded him the Hal Borland award for his contributions to the appreciation and understanding of nature and science.

This I think dates from around 1972, 73 and this is you know various pelagic birds, from albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels, ice birds, you know, on and on.

[Image: Map of the Americas with bird migration routes, surrounded by various painted birds]

This is a migration map for the National Geographic that you can see occasionally sold on eBay. It’s quite a spectacular illustration.

[Image: Painting of a flock of scarlet ibis in a mangrove with one egret in the water nearby]

And here’s a page from, a he did ten or eleven paintings for Audubon magazine on the Asa Wright Nature Centre, and they’re wonderful paintings some of ‘em in gouache, some of ‘em in oil. This one is owned by Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, and is one of the illustrations that he did for this article, which I think was so around 1987.


-Around 1976, Arthur was invited to join Frame House Gallery, publisher of limited edition prints. He joined his friends Don Eckelberry and Ann Ophelia Dowden, as well as Ray Harm, Richard Evans Younger, Charlie Harper and Charles Frace. Over the next eight years he painted twenty-one pictures for Frame House and resold the originals. His friend Guy Coheleach began his own print company, Regency House, and his friend Robert Bateman was the star at Mill Pond Press.

-After his book commitments had been reduced Arthur began to paint more seriously. He revised editions of his field guide to Birds of North America as well as Birds of Europe in the early 1980s and his son, Alan helped him complete these tasks.]

Limited editions, of course everybody got into the print business then, or even Don Eckelberry did some prints. Ann Ophelia Dowden, a botanical artist, Charlie Harper who does these very interesting, slightly cartoonish, stylized images, Richard Evans Younger, Charles Frace, Ray Harm, I don’t love their work, but they’re, you know, they were serious artists.

And his friend Guy Coheleach, who also did limited editions with his own company Regency House, and Robert Bateman, who I guess was one of the most successful of all of them, and is still going strong.

After his ties with Vineyard ended because of the sudden death and bankruptcy, he had fewer book commissions. There were several state birds that he did with Alan, and he did the Birds of Greenland, and he did a children’s book, an ABC book of pastels, there were birds, and animals, birds and mammals, and reptiles, they’re all animals, yes.

And at this point, yes, and at this point by the early 1980s, Alan was already assisting Arthur, Arthur had some vision problems at this point, and he couldn’t handle the demands, the workload was enormous, and of course the next thing was, after these limited edition prints,

[Image: Painting of a red-tailed hawk on a branch with wings outstretched]

[Image: Painting of two belted kingfishers perched on a branch over a river. One has a fish in its beak]

of which I’m showing you two, a red-tailed hawk and these belted kingfishers, which are both phenomenal. He did 21 of these paintings for, for Frame House, but after that it was the state bird and flower stamps.


-The US Postal Service contacted Arthur in 1981 to illustrate a set of 50 State Birds & Flowers stamps. When it was released in 1982, it sold 500 million sheets, the largest selling commemorative set to that time. Arthur painted the birds and his son Alan painted the flowers. They completed the assignment in a year. The prior year, they had painted 50 first day covers for the Unicover Corp and numerous plates for the book, Birds of Greenland.

State Birds, a book illustrated by Arthur and Alan Singer was published by E.P. Dutton in 1986.

-In 1987, the set of fifty stamp illustrations was shown at the Smithsonian Museum. 250,000 viewers attended the exhibit during its duration.]

And so this commission, first by the government, and even before that a private company that had wanted them to do first day covers. They completed a set of fifty first day covers, and the fifty bird and flower stamps, state bird and flower stamps, which became at the time, I would say the biggest commemorative seller that the post office had ever had, at that time, like five hundred million sheets were sold. Which I guess translates into what 20 billion stamps or something, something like that. Twenty five billion, yeah twenty five billion stamps.

Anyhow, one of the last projects they did together was State Birds in 1986, and when the Smithsonian hosted an exhibit of all the original art for the bird and flower stamps, and they also showed some plates from the state birds books, they attracted a quarter of a million visitors in the months that the exhibit was out, so that was, that was pretty significant.

[Photo: Alan and Arthur Singer with another man standing next to a display of the fifty state bird and flower stamp art]

And here’s a picture of Alan a few years younger and my dad over on the left of the three, by this large reproduction of the fifty bird and flower stamps.

[Slide text: THE PAINTNGS

-From the mid-1970s to 1989, Singer composed and painted 150 oils and large gouache on board paintings. These were shown in his many solo exhibits but and are not well known. Many now reside in private collections or in museums. In 1982 Singer had an important exhibition at the Hammer Gallery in NYC where many of his paintings were sold.

-The following images are a sample of painting from the late 1970s on. They show that Singer mastered both the birds and their natural settings and each painting is based on sightings that he photographed in the field.

-Throughout his life, he studied and painted watercolor landscapes, from the Peruvian Andes to the beaches of Trinidad, from the African plains to Jamaica Bay.]

At the end of these contracts, and from about the late seventies on, he was painting more, he had a little more time to give to it. He had fewer demanding commissions, although the state birds was a big, big commission, so he could paint more. And I know I encouraged him to do more easel painting, and so did my brother. And so he proceeded to do that. And I, we figured that he painted somewhere on the order of about a hundred and fifty oils in the last twelve or thirteen years of his life, give or take.

He had the big show at the Hammer Gallery, had another show at the Hammer Gallery, I think in 1984, and I’m gonna show you a few samples of those paintings. And of course all along if, when he got out into the field, and and he wasn’t birdwatching, and he wasn’t photographing, he was doing landscape watercolors, and he was extremely good at it. We we tried to keep up ,but my father was very good at it.

So I’m gonna show you a few of the paintings, there’s a few of the paintings here.

[Image: Painting of two male and four female pheasants in snow]

So this was another version of the pheasants that he did. This is a fairly large painting, oil painting, at Muttontown Preserve, and and this has recently traded, hands, so changed hands, I know the owner of this, fabulous painting.

[Image: Painting of a great gray owl perched on a branch in a snowy tree]

And here’s a great gray owl that we had sold out of the estate, and it came up for auction not too long ago. I thought I had owned it, I thought I had the right bid, but I was wrong. I thought it was gonna be in my possession, but it’s in some, it’s an another important collector’s possession, I won’t mention the name.

[Image: Painting of a sparrowhawk in flight against a blue sky]

Here’s a little gouache of a sparrowhawk that he probably painted in an hour or two. It’s very fresh, it’s never been framed, it’s never been shown except now. But we will frame it, and it may be in one of the next exhibits.

[Image: Painting of a bald eagle perched in a tree covered in moss]

Here we can see the bald eagle at Glacier Bay, it’s it’s over on the on the wall on the left. Magnificent painting. We figure he he painted somewhere between eight and nine, eight and ten, maybe, oil paintings of bald eagles in different postures. Because some of his favorite subjects he painted again and again, like great blue herons, bald eagles, and and others. Skimmers, brown pelicans.

[Image: Painting of a snowy owl in flight]

So here’s another snowy owl, and snowy owls, of course, how could I forget that? This is, this is an interesting painting. He probably did it, I’m gonna guess, I didn’t watch him do it, but I’m gonna guess that he painted it in maybe two hours or three hours at the most. It’s all palette knife.

[Image: Painting of marbled godwits and a Heermann’s gull in the shallow waves of a beach]

And here’s a painting of marbled godwits and a Heermann gull, Herrmann’s gull.

[Image: Painting of a toco toucan in a tree]

And in here is the toco toucan, which is owned by the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. One of the three, that, three significant oils that they own by Arthur.

[Image: Painting of a pair of collared aracari in a jungle setting]

And here’s I guess, collared aracari. Magnificent gouache, just a fantastic piece that got snapped up at one of his exhibits.

[Image: Painting of a flock of flamingos on a lake]

And this is the flamingos that he originally saw at Lake Magadi, and he finally painted, I think around 1983 or 1984, which is roughly 23 or 24 years after he had first seen it and photographed it, he got around to making this painting. These can all be seen in our, in our book. These and many more.

[Image: Painting of several species of egrets and herons the water around mangroves]

And and this one as well. And this is a group of egrets, reddish egret, Louisiana heron, great egret. I could be wrong about that, but um, and it’s, it’s the way he composed, you know, he did, this is not photographic. As you can tell he doesn’t do photographic paintings, this is an assemble, this is a designed painting. He knew what he wanted to do, he knew the mangroves he wanted to paint, he knew the birds he wanted to include in it, he composed it beautifully. But there was never quite this assemblage that he actually saw. This might be different parts of several photographs.

[Image: Painting of five Siberian cranes]

This is Siberian cranes, a large watercolor that we have. And I think that may conclude, do I have any more images?

[Image: Painting of five roseate spoonbills, one in a mangrove and the rest in the water nearby]

Oh yes, the roseate spoonbill. So I’m taking you through probably the later paintings that he did, but it gives you an, in like a bit of an insight into his creative mind, into his passion for birds, his passion for wildlife, complete dedication. The man worked from 9 in the morning to 9 in the evening, but never considered it work, it was his pleasure to do it. And that is the conclusion of our…


[Slide text: Arthur Singer’s Working Ways Bringing Art and Ornithology Together]

[Alan] I want to thank everybody for coming out tonight. It’s been a pleasure listening to my brother, who did so much work putting this book together, and we collaborated on that, as we’ve done in in the past on other projects, but I also want to thank the Lab for inviting us in the first place, to have this show. And it’s a wonderful opportunity, my father would have been so pleased to have his paintings hanging in the same room with Louis Agassiz Fuertes, so you know thank you, thank the Lab for offering us this opportunity. I hope to answer some questions after after my short speech here, if you can call it a speech. But you may have some questions about how Arthur actually did what he did, and that’s my little talk tonight, bringing art and ornithology together.

[Slide text: Command of Hand Skills

Image: Painting of an ostrich]

You know one thing I would say is that my father had great patience. He also, from the examples that my brother has shown you, great hand skills. Now some of that probably comes from the family that he grew up in. My grandma, my father’s mom, made very fine dolls clothes for FAO Schwartz for most of her life. And so I think my father may have learned something about patience just from watching his mom create these beautiful things that were sold.

So there was something about that that comes through even in this work here that we’re seeing of the ostrich. And I look at that ostrich I say he loved the materials that he was using. There’s a couple of drops of ink that have spread out on a on a moist piece of paper, then augmented with a few lines of color, and a little, little indication of detail.

[Slide text: Understanding Details

Image: Painting of a pair of ostriches in front of zebras and eland, a page from the book Birds of the World]

My father understood detail, and I think he understood that literally from the time that he was a little kid. And the example that we happened to have up here on the screen comes from Birds of the World, which already you know was many years into his career, but it was fascinating to watch him work and literally paint every feather. So he had great patience, and he was also able with his art to describe things that are hard to understand, like in this case the ostrich’s foot, which is able to stand the weight of the bird, which sometimes can weigh up to 300 pounds or more.

[Slide text: Direct Observation

Photo: Arthur Singer painting a baby bird]

My father worked from direct observation. Here we have a picture of him. Some neighbor had brought to him a little baby bird, the little baby bird’s in the ashtray, sitting there on on the desktop, while my father paints its portrait. My father is about 45 in this photograph. We had just moved to Long Island. He set up his studio at home, he worked at home. So for a family growing up, my father was always working but we had the opportunity to learn a lot from watching him work.

And when my father wasn’t painting directly from life he was using the study skins that he would borrow from the Museum of Natural History in New York City, and I often went with him to watch him carefully pick out these bird skins to work with at home. He would he would select the birds that he wanted based on their plumage, the qualities that they showed. And I was very often impressed because he’d take them home in little shoeboxes, and I’d look at the tags, very often these birds were mounted by John James Audubon himself, and were signed, the tags were signed by Audubon.

[Slide text: Field Work

Photo: Arthur Singer in a forest holding a camera with a large lens]

So an artist of course must do, if you’re going to paint birds and animals, you must do field work. And my father spent a good portion of every year that I was aware of out in the field, either painting directly from life or with his long lens that my brother talked about, which you see here, doing field work, which was essentially finding the birds and photographing them. And it was all-consuming when he was out there, that’s what he was looking for.

[Slide text: Studio is Home

Photo: Arthur Singer smoking a pipe while sketching birds in his studio]

As I said his studio was home, and this is a typical scene of my father working on perhaps pages from a bird guide. And you know he’s got his watercolors out, he’s, he was a smoker, you know which probably ended up you know impacting his health later on. Smoking a pipe and listening, probably to jazz music. He was absolutely in love with jazz.

[Slide text: Backyard Bird Watching

Photo: Arthur Singer sitting at a picnic table looking at a bird guide, with binoculars around his neck]

And here he is sitting in the backyard, our backyard in Jericho, Long Island with his book, in the first edition. And I think enjoying just sunlight, and just the fact that birds would come to him. Now since he was at home, the studio always seemed to have a project going on, and he was always working on illustrations for books or magazines.

And he hadn’t really spent that much time doing the paintings, many of the larger paintings that we see here in the our show, because he was under contract, first to Golden Books to produce a sticker book and then Birds of the World, and then Birds of North America, and then Birds of Europe, so these projects went on for years at a time.

[Slide text: Drawing is Composing

Photo: Arthur Singer drawing pelicans in his studio]

They usually start with drawing. I could say that, you know, after the fieldwork, after you get your bird skins to study, after you’ve taken the photographs, the first thing that you’re going to do is probably sit and draw. And most artists do that type of work.

Solitary, it’s time-consuming, but that way you can work out what you are going to be painting. And here you see literally a view that I photographed him over his shoulder as he’s drawing a whole little composition of pelicans.

[Slide text: First, Work on Paper

Image: Sketch of a heron with small painting version in the corner]

First works on paper, if you’re going to paint, draw it out. The drawings that he made were often in pastel on tracing paper, and he would do numbers of them before he would solidify a composition that he was sold on.

[Slide text: Compare Sketches

Image: Sketch of a heron with several smaller painted compositions around it]

So, and I, having worked with him, I understand that this was his, his process. And I think all artists have a process of some sort that they call their own. So I think that when I look at my father’s work now also in retrospect, I realize that he’s a a consummate designer. Nothing seems out of place in my father’s work, everything seems to have a balance and an internal reason for being. Partly that’s because he made many, many preparatory sketches. And we see this in this case is a very big painting that he was doing for a commercial company, I think it was a real estate company.

And so it was a commission, and so he would do a number of sketches, probably deciding on the one that he liked the most to show to the client.

[Slide text: Rendering your Subject

Image: Painting of a heron]

And then he would render his subject, often in watercolor, often in gouache. A little later on in his career spent more time with oil paint and acrylic. These paintings took time to develop.

[Slide text: Artist at Work

Photo: View from behind of Arthur Singer while he paints a kingfisher]

Here is a look right over his shoulder again, on a composition with a kingfisher. You can notice that he’s working with a little tiny brush. He’s got a very very fine brush for this big composition. This took him quite a bit of time, but it was normal for my father. This is part of his working day.

[Slide text: Illustrated Bird Guide

Image: Sketch of Birds of North America book cover]

Rough sketch for Birds of North America for the book cover. When a project like this came up he would often do numbers of sketches also for the covers, and give the publisher a choice. This is the one that ended up being used in a different version for the cover of his book.

[Slide text: Revised Birds of North America

Image: Cover of Birds of North America with painting of three bunting species]

And in 1977, 1978 they determined that they were going to revise his bird guide, and I worked with him on that revision. Having watched him work for so many years I was able to mimic his style, so when he started to develop eye problems I did some of the work on the birds, on the backgrounds, and helped him because his work load was very heavy.

[Slide text: Father and Son

Photo: Arthur and Alan Singer in the studio, with Alan watching Arthur work on a drawing]

That’s a picture of me and him around the time that we got started working on the birds and flowers of the 50 states. And so I would say this is about 1981. There’s a painting of roseate spoonbills going on in the background, he’s working on a bittern. There’s a painting of a trogon in the background by Don R. Eckelberry, close friend. And he’s working at home.

[Slide text: Commissions

Image: Sketch of Arizona bird and flower stamp]

This is the way our commission started out, literally with one of the first drawings. We would have a little, it’s a discussion about who’s going to do what, of course I decided that I was better with with flowers and he was better with the birds, so that’s the way it went. Arthur did all of the birds for our postage stamps, and I did all of the flowers. And we designed the work together, and every week, or at least two days a week, I visited with him and I would do my part.

[Slide text: State Birds and Flowers

Image: Painting of a cactus wren on a Saguaro cactus in flower]

So there’s a composition, which in the end had to be redrawn because once it came down to postage stamp-sized it was deemed too detailed for their particular need, so it was redesigned and redone. So sometimes the compositions worked the first time and sometimes they had to be redrawn.

[Slide text: Our State Birds Book

Image: Pastel drawing of cardinals]

Not sure whether you can see it, but it’s a pastel sketch that my father made for a subsequent book that we illustrated together called State Birds.

[Slide text: Our Final Project

Image: Cover of State Birds, with a painting of a cardinal on a branch]

And this was endorsed by the National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation and I really enjoyed this project. But I have to say that my father was already experiencing eye problems. He had glaucoma, and then he had cataracts that developed, and I did a lot of work on this project.

But once again we divided the work up, my father did the birds, and I did the the flowers, and the landscapes in the State Birds book. That was our final project together, it was 1986 that this book was published.

[Slide text: Talking to the Media

Photo: Arthur Singer and another man with a book]

Now my father did spend some time talking to the media, and he did that to further his career, and also advertise the projects that he worked with. And I just wanted to end my discussion here about the art that he did with a little short video, which were going to queue up, so let’s get that on. And you can see and see it is a it’s a presentation that was originally aired in 1982. Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt so let’s see it.

(video playing)

[Charles] I walked into the post office the other day to buy stamps

{[Alan] The sound gets better, the sound gets better.}

[Charles] Expecting to get 50 American eagles, or 50 American flags, the sort of thing you get when you buy a set of stamps, but what I was handed was a joyous little masterpiece. [Inaudible] Miniatures of all the state birds and flowers. [Inaudible] It turns out that they are the work of a father and son, Arthur Singer the painter of birds and his son Alan, who knows his flowers.

{[Alan] This is the Hammer Gallery in New York City.}


[Charles] In New York, for all his major paintings, at the encouragement of his sons.

[People walking around an art gallery, Arthur Singer signing a woman’s stamps]


[Charles] But the conversation kept coming back to those little stamps. Each of the 50 stamps is a precise double portrait. All together, the states, united.

[Music] [Ceremony in Washington, D.C.]

[Charles] The first day ceremony for the stamps was held in Washington with a fanfare for the Singers and their stamps. Two Singers, 426 million stamps. No artist has ever had such bestsellers.

[Arthur Singer] It was a very wonderful job to do, I enjoyed it. It’s kind of like a puzzle, you know, because in the case of for instance the cardinal, seven states have the cardinal. You wonder how you can come up with seven different enough compositions so that each stamp will look totally different.


[Man] Arthur Singer, designer of the birds on the stamps, and his talented son Alan, who designed the flowers. As far as we know, they are the first father-and-son team to design a stamp issue for the United States Postal Service.


[Alan] Poster in miniature, so that each element sort of stood out, and you can see everything very clearly, but it still looked very natural, and that’s a hard thing to do. I visit the botanical gardens near my home in Brooklyn very very frequently, almost on a weekly basis to stroll for pleasure, or in my case for jobs that I have, to illustrate textbooks and other kinds of articles, I go there regularly and investigate material in the library. So I’m familiar with printed material and actual flowers from studying them and making drawings of them there, right there in the botanical gardens.

[Arthur] It’s nice to work from life, with a plant, it’s easy because they’re not gonna fly away on you. However, just about every subject in this 50 was photographed in life by me, and frequently in the place they live, like I’ve been to Alaska so I was able to photograph ptarmigan up there. And this is aside from the books I have, and also a very huge picture collection, which must number in the early six figures.

The difficulty in this 50 was one or two birds, well particularly Delaware, the blue hen chicken, no one knows anything about it including the state. There’s an old, old, very primitive looking engraving, and this blue hen chicken must have been brought by the pilgrims to amuse themselves. It was a fighting cock, they bet on fights, cock fights, and it seems to me that when every other state is actually a wild bird, except for Rhode Island, Rhode Island has a Rhode Island red, these two are kind of [Inaudible], you know I would love to someday make my own list of 50 state birds. I wouldn’t have a repeat on it. It could be much more interesting.

For example, outside of the nene goose there are no ducks, and look at how popular ducks are. There’s not a bobwhite, really a bird that most Americans know and love, although you don’t often see it. They’re quite secretive. Quail can be quite secretive. Bobwhite, there isn’t a single owl, a single bird of prey, and I think that’s an oversight. But then generally people like little pretty backyard birds, but there are an awful lot of birds that could be very beautiful. There’s not an egret, there’s not a heron, there’s not a kingfisher. Kingfisher’s a wonderful bird. There’s not an eagle. There isn’t even a wild turkey. Franklin picked that for his choice for the nation’s bird, and and yet it doesn’t appear in the stamps anywhere. So I think there’s too great an abundance of cardinals [Inaudible] and not enough variation.

[People in the gallery asking questions]

[Woman] You have a European goldfinch and an American goldfinch in the same picture.

[Arthur] Yes, that’s in Birds of the World.

[Woman] But where did you find them together?

[Arthur] You won’t find them together. In Birds of the World I had to show species from everywhere, five different continents. So those are not realistic species conceptions.

[Woman] Does the European goldfinch live in Bermuda? I understand they may be naturalized there.

[Arthur] There may be some. Ask Roger Tory Peterson.


[Charles] Arthur Singer’s big paintings opened in Manhattan. The show brought together the artist, and his friends, and a lifetime of intense [Inaudible], painstaking work. The life’s work prepared him to paint the 50 bright miniatures I was handed at the post office.

(video ends)

[Alan] I think it’s time to close that out. So I don’t know. Escape? Escape? Escape? Mark? This is, I think they’ve run a commercial during this period of time. I think that’s it. And actually at this particular period of time, if there’s any questions, this would be a good time if there’s anybody wants to ask about something.

Yes? People wanted to know about gouache, gouache being a water-based tempera paint that has a binder that’s makes it look a little chalky, but actually is one of my father’s preferred media.

And the reason why he chose that is because it reproduces very beautifully. It’s a water-based media, but you can rewet it and move it around. He often used these little little tiny brushes, they’re called zeros or sometimes triple zeros, to make you know very very fine marks on, often these paintings are done on illustration board, some of them are done on paper, with gouache. But it’s just one of his media that he liked to work with. He also liked watercolor and he liked, later in his career, I mentioned acrylic paint and oil paint. Those were his favorite media. Yes?

Some of them were some of the paintings that he did were for a commission. Many of them were self directed, and I think would, the paintings would last as long as they had to, in terms of the process of making them. So you know it’s it’s on his own time, on his own schedule, yes. I don’t know. Yes?

Well I would say the most stylistic artwork that my father got involved in, I think my brother mentioned the fact that my father was very influenced while he was in college by the cave painters of Altamira and Lascaux, and his artwork became much more stylized during the 1940s, 1930s, but but I think with the commissions that he received, like from American Home, and we’ve got four of those hanging up in the in the back here, and he came around to a different understanding of what the audience would like, maybe based on the popular process of doing the artwork and seeing that they sold. And and sold many millions, and that’s a style that really harkens back to Audubon, but is brought up to date with my father’s sense of design. I don’t know, do you want to say something about that?

[Paul] Well I was just gonna say Audubon was a strong influence from the time he first discovered it, and he discovered Fuertes long before he knew about Audubon, so Audubon was only in the Cooper years, when he was a student, maybe when he was 20. Cooper Union happened to own the Audubon folios, so he was shown the original folios. There’s a long caption in the book about how blown away he was because he had not seen that before, now we see it all the time, but he had not seen that before and he was completely blown away. I think the American Home prints were pretty strongly influenced by that idea, but you know he wasn’t, he couldn’t copy it, and he wouldn’t copy the style, he was just influenced by it.

[Alan] And I would just have to say that my father was part of the birds and art shows that were organized by the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum every year. My father was very aware of the other artists in the country that were creating art from nature, and birds in particular, and so he was very aware of it, but was he influenced by it or did it change him? If there were any changes they were very very gradual, but I think my father’s sense of design really is what drove him, and his as I said great patience and love for the subject. Yes?

[Man] I had a chance to get to know Peterson a bit and talked to him a few times about his work, and one of the things that rang out to me was he described the years in which he was painting the field guides like in a prison. That he was chained to the board day after day to get the next painting out to keep the schedule going and there were a lot of paintings in the books. Did you ever get a sense from your father that the books were?

[Alan] So so the question is does, did my father regard his commission as as being in prison.

[Paul] No.

[Alan] I would say there is a little bit of that, but mostly no, because I think that he realized that you know this, these projects would make his reputation. They would guarantee him stability. He was a family man, obviously, and I I know he was under contract, so once you sign your name to that you’re you’re in it for the duration. So I think he he looked forward to his projects, and it was really only when publishing projects seemed to ebb away that he decided to spend more time on his, on his paintings.

Did he ever feel like he was imprisoned by it? Maybe on occasion, but I but, because I think you know, setting up the compositions for each page, it’s restrictive, and and you have to, you have to be able to communicate something with scientific accuracy that will also attract the public. So it there there’s a balance that you have to achieve. I think more than that you know I wouldn’t hazard a guess, maybe Paul has an idea about that.

[Paul] I think, I mean he had such a dedication to the subject and to what he was doing that he couldn’t, I mean there was restrictions, obviously, you have to put 20 species on a on a plate or whatever the you know, you know, the demands being. It was it was difficult in that respect, but he enjoyed you know he enjoyed the entire process, and you can see that in the in the way he can bring any of the birds, any groups of you know sparrows, to life. All of a sudden they look exciting. You know so there’s a certain kind of joy, and a certain kind of passion that goes through all of his work and I don’t, there was hardly a time I think he was ever bored, I mean he just he wasn’t that kind of person. He he put his heart into everything, basically.

[Alan] Yeah well, our last question?

[Man] Of the, well being involved in the arts in New York City all that time, what was your home life? His love of jazz. Did other people visit?

[Alan] Our home life was, I I would say we were a very together family, and matter of fact my father brought us out into the field to watch birds with him, my mom along with us. You know my father took us as a family also to visit art galleries, art museums wherever we traveled. So not only was he out in the field but he would want to go see what’s in the museum, what’s showing at the gallery, and he was very balanced in that regard. So I would say he was, it was a normal family life, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me.

[John] I want to thank you Alan, and thank you Paul for a great presentation tonight.

[Alan] And if anybody wants us to sign the book. There are books for sale out there.


[Alan] Thank you very, thank you very much everybody.

[Paul] And thank you.

[View of Singer paintings and stamps in the room]

End of transcript

Paul and Alan Singer, sons of prolific wildlife artist Arthur Singer, commemorate the talent and work of their father in this Monday Night Seminar. First, Paul Singer provides a look at the wildlife art of Arthur Singer from 1934 until his death in 1990. Then, Alan Singer, Arthur’s illustration assistant on a variety of projects including revisions to the Field Guide to Birds of North America and the US Postal Stamp commemoratives, will share his observations on Arthur’s working methods and approach to illustration and painting.