Thoughts on a forgotten artist
Posted by on June 19, 2014

Ewell Sale Stewart Library, Academy of Natural Sciences, Drexel University 

Every day starting early in the morning, I think about words. But sometimes, for perspective, it’s good to consider imagery created by a different kind of “magic”—art created without linguistic sculpting.

How does the artist convey their image and the complexities of nature? When does the artist know to take field notes or begin sketching? How many blank pages does it take?

Under the surface, these questions are as much an open inquiry as how the writer puts together a description. So this week—quite inexplicably—I found myself thinking about the mostly-forgotten, but extremely talented, bird artist Alexander Rider.

Unlike his contemporaries John J. Audubon; Alexander Wilson, who became known as “the father of ornithology;” and Titan Ramsay Teale, not much is known about Alexander Rider–except that the German immigrant drank his share of whiskey and that his remaining prints are some of the most detailed bird art of the first half of the nineteenth century.

But A. Rider (as he signed his artwork) was not just an artist of portraiture. He sketched in the field, and became known for trying to capture the appearance of birds as they look in the wild.

It was six years before Audubon when Alex Rider trekked the sand dry as dust and the flat-lands pines. If late at night in front of the computer screen’s gleam you search long enough, you will stumble upon A. Rider’s work. One of his first Florida birds was the scrub jay.

Florida jay (Garrulus floridanus); Northern three-toed woodpecker (Picus tridactylus), young red-headed woodpecker (Picus erythrocephalus) / drawn from nature by A. Rider ; engraved by Alexander Lawson, [ca. 1825].

Rider eventually worked with Wilson and Audubon, helping them both produce their volumes of bird art.

Nearly nineteen decades later, one writer, searching in the gleam of the computer screen at night, ponders this artist.

Post by Roger


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  • Photo by Tyler Malone