Moving Targets

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Art exhibition linking passenger pigeon and Jewish heritage comes to Ryerson Woods

MOVING TARGETS

OPENING: Sunday, May 4 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

RUNS: May 4 – July 3, 2014

Artists and friends Steffi Domike and Ann T. Rosenthal often focus on environmental issues in their work, sometimes weaving bird imagery into their pieces. Both also have traced the history of their Jewish ancestors from Ukraine. Now the artists have created a unique exhibition that links their heritage and environmental ethics. Moving Targets will open May 4 at Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. A free reception will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Using digital media, painting and layering techniques, the artists will install collages, wood box paintings, maps and photos to tell the story of migration, loss and survival.

The exhibition weaves the story of their ancestors’ migration from Ukraine to Canada with the migration of the now extinct passenger pigeons in the United States. With help from historian Ruth Fichman, the artists learned about their ancestors who left the Ukraine circa 1910 to escape anti-Semitism and pogroms (organized massacres, especially of Jews). “As part of Moving Targets, Steffi and I are each creating a visual journal that will interpret the story of our mothers’ families, along with the migration of passenger pigeons in the United States,” said Rosenthal.

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Steffi Domike and Ann Rosenthal at Ryerson Woods.

This year marks the centenary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird in North America. The species was hunted to extinction within 40 years. “Both the birds and the people made tremendous voyages to survive,” Domike said. “On the one hand, our families obviously did survive. Yet the birds did not ultimately make it. Some of our interest is in the commonalities of this flight to survival. Some of it is about differences.” Rosenthal said they use maps as backdrops, with mixed media pieces hung on the maps. “There are two maps. One represents the pigeon. One represents our family.” The maps will be presented in sections, each telling a part of the story.

In addition to exhibiting their own work, the artists have invited 14 artists from states where the passenger pigeon formerly lived to create a portrait gallery in Brushwood. Each artist is using wooden birch boxes upon which they will create their work whether it be through collage, photography or painting. “One of our submissions is the ghost of the passenger pigeon, another is a formal portrait, another one is a half dozen birds flying madly as though in a large flock,” Domike said. “They are absolutely beautiful.”

They said their inspiration for creating the exhibition came from Joel Greenberg, author of A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction. Greenberg will receive a conservation award at the Smith Nature Symposium to be held May 17 at Ryerson Woods. Symposium attendees will be able to browse the Moving Targets exhibition during the Symposium.

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Ann Rosenthal shares her family’s journey from the Ukraine to Canada to California in the “Moving Targets” exhibition.

The Smith Nature Symposium is an annual benefit event for Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. This year will mark the Symposium’s 31st year of bringing luminaries in the fields of science and conservation to the citizens of Lake County. The 2014 Symposium is part of a year- long exploration of the theme extinction | survival. Key sponsors are Abbott and Bartlett Tree Experts. For more information on the Symposium, visit www.brushwoodcenter.org/smith-nature-symposium.html.

Greenberg’s book and Rosenthal and Domike’s exhibition are part of an international effort to familiarize as many people as possible with the history of the passenger pigeon and its extinction as well as to raise awareness of how the issue of extinction is ecologically, culturally, and morally relevant to the 21st Century.

Domike and Rosenthal have been collaborating on environmentally themed artworks for more than a decade, exhibiting throughout the U.S., Japan and Germany. The exhibition runs through July 3, 2014.

For more information, call 847.968.3344 or visit www.brushwoodcenter.org.

The exhibition is part of the extinction | survival series of public programs being offered by Brushwood Center over the course of 2014. The series seeks to promote a broader understanding of extinction and species survival. We’re exploring why extinction happened in the past and why it continues today, as well as celebrating stories of species survival. Programs include book talks, art exhibitions, lectures and film screenings that will run throughout 2014.

 

About Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods

Through innovative nature and arts programs presented against a backdrop of stately woods where pre-settlement flora and fauna still linger, Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods seeks to build an environmental ethic in our region by offering multiple points of entry for the public to connect with nature. Brushwood Center is a nonprofit organization.

BRUSHWOOD CENTER PUBLIC HOURS:
Monday to Thursday, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Sunday, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
Or by appointment, 847.968.3308.

Brushwood Center is located at: 21850 N. Riverwoods Rd., Riverwoods, IL 60015. 

Project Passenger Pigeon – From Billions to None

Artists conception of mural being installed in downtown Cincinnati that features John Ruthven’s mural of passenger pigeons flying over the Cincinnati Zoo in the 1870s.
Artists conception of mural being installed in downtown Cincinnati as part of P3 that features John Ruthven’s mural of passenger pigeons flying over the Cincinnati Zoo in the 1870s.

Do you know about Project Passenger Pigeon (P3)?  It is an international effort to mark the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction in 2014. Friends of Ryerson Woods is a P3 partner.

The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America and likely the world, with a population that likely exceeded a billion as late as 1860. But because it was the cheapest terrestrial protein, it was subjected to unrelenting exploitation that drove it to near extinction by the first few years of the twentieth century when the last wild birds were shot. All that remained were a handful of individuals in captivity, the last of which (Martha) keeled over in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.

Passenger pigeon specimens from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's collections.
Passenger pigeon specimens from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s collections.

The story of the passenger pigeon has great relevance to us today. There is no better cautionary tale to the proposition that no matter how abundant something is, be it inanimate ―water, oil, etc.―or alive, it can be lost if we are not circumspect in our use. P3 seeks to familiarize the public with the story of the passenger pigeon and then to make the connections with current issues related to extinction and our place in nature. P3 intends to do this through its web-site, social media, curriculum, a book, and a variety of exhibits and programs.  Friends of Ryerson Woods has adopted the centenary as its 2014 theme, and we are developing a rich slate of public programs for 2014 that explore the themes of extinction and species survival.  We are partnering with other Lake County organizations to present a wide range of activities, exhibitions and presentations for you to enjoy throughout the year.

One program you won’t want to miss is a book talk by natural history historian and author Joel Greenberg. Joel has written the first comprehensive book on the passenger pigeon in 50 years.  It is being published by Bloomsbury USA and will be released early in 2014.  We’ve secured Joel for an author event on Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 7pm.  This event will be held at the Greenbelt Cultural Center and is being presented in partnership with Lake County Forest Preserves, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest Open Lands and the Wildlife Discovery Center.  Copies of Joel’s forthcoming book, Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, will be available for sale and signing.

Filming for the documentary with author Joel Greenberg and senior curator of urban ecology Steve Sullivan of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in the museum collections.
Filming for the documentary with author Joel Greenberg and senior curator of urban ecology Steve Sullivan of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in the museum collections.

The single element that can reach the most people is the documentary being made by director David Mrazek, “From Billions to None.” It is also the most expensive element. As such, P3 recently launched an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign and has already raised $22,000 of its $65,000 goal. These funds will allow for additional animation, trips to significant sites, production assistance, and other important tasks.  We’d love to be able to screen this film for you in 2014.  Would you be interested in supporting the production of this important film?

Here is the link:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/from-billions-to-none-the-passenger-pigeon-s-flight-to-extinction

1491 and Passenger Pigeons

IJoel Greenberg at Markham Prairien late August, FRW executive director Sophie Twichell hiked in the gorgeous Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham, Illinois with author and historian Joel Greenberg.  In honor of FRW’s programming theme, LESSONS FROM THE PRAIRIE, they discussed future programming ideas for Friends of Ryerson Woods.  While talking about the upcoming book selections for the Ryerson Reads book discussion series, Joel expressed some strong feelings about Charles C. Mann’s treatment of the passenger pigeon in his celebrated book 1491.  Sophie invited Joel to submit a blog entry about it, and here it is. Enjoy!

by Joel Greenberg, Research Associate, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Field Museum

After being immersed in the literature of the passenger pigeon for going on three years now, I want to address a canard that was fueled by its inclusion in 1491.  Although fossil remains have been found as far west as California, it would seem that the principal range of the passenger pigeon was a large region of eastern Canada and the United States, bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, the west by the headwaters of the Missouri River, the north almost to Hudson’s Bay, and as far south as the gulf states. The bird’s foremost scholar placed its population in 1500 as some where between 3 and 5 billion. The birds aggregated in flocks that would darken the sky for many hours at a time: when in Kentucky, Audubon noted a three day period when the masses of birds blocked the sun for the entire duration. As late as 1860, a single flight near Toronto likely exceeded a billion birds and maybe three billion. But due to unrelenting exploitation by humans for food and sport, they were virtually gone from the wild by 1900 and the last individual died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

A paper in 1985 by archeologist Thomas Neumann claimed that the absence of passenger pigeon remains in archeological digs demonstrates that the species existed in small numbers during prehistoric times due to predation and competition for food by Native Americans. It was only after Indian populations plummeted due to the diseases brought by Europeans were passenger pigeons able to attain historical abundance. This increase in pigeons was further helped by the reduction of deer, turkey, and other non-human competitors due to the appetites of the new arrivals.

Unfortunately this assertion was stated as fact by Mann in 1491 and the popularity of the book spread the falsehood widely. It has resonated with many people who still support it even after learning that subsequent work has largely refuted it.  I think a lot of people find reassurance in the idea that passenger pigeon abundance was due to Euro-American activities: the bird’s extinction at the hands of those same immigrants would somehow be less significant or awful. That we created the abundance exculpates us in our avarice that destroyed it.

Neumann, however, omitted many of the sites, including most of those mentioned above, where pigeon remains did appear. He also missed many of the earliest European descriptions depicting vast flocks of passenger pigeon. And finally, he greatly over estimated the degree and impacts that human competition and predation would have had on the pigeon population. For these and other reasons, archaeologists have largely repudiated this argument.  A detailed refutation based on a comprehensive review of  passenger pigeon remains in southern archeological sites is presented by H.E. Jackson of University of Southern Mississippi  (“Darkening the Sun in their Flight: A Zooarcheological Accounting of Passenger Pigeons in the Prehistoric Southeast.”  In Engaged Anthropology, edited by M. Hegmon and S. Beiselt. University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology: 2005.)

Professor Jackson’s work does suggest that pigeon numbers in the southeast began to rise during the period between 900 and 1000 AD, about 500 years before the appearance of Europeans. But even if this is true, the reasons for the increase are difficult to divine.  Fortunately, though, we have the opportunity to learn more about the early history of the species. The Smithsonian and other institutions are currently extracting DNA from the toe pads of passenger pigeon specimens (there are over 1600 throughout the world) in an effort to seek insights on how the passenger pigeon lived and died.

Joel Greenberg writes about natural history and has been most recently a principal in Project Passenger Pigeon, an international effort to use the 2014 centenary of the species’ extinction to help promote conservation. He is writing the first book on the bird since 1955. It is being published by Walker and Co., and has a publication date of January 2014.

To learn more about the Gensburg-Markham Prairie, visit:

http://www.chicagowilderness.org/CW_Archives/issues/summer2000/gensburg.html