Friday, February 5, 2010

Reimagining Alexander Wilson's Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Originally posted 3/18/10 - backdated to organize posts by topic.

If you are familiar with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, then you've probably read Alexander Wilson's  amazing account of capturing a live Ivory-bill in North Carolina in the early 1800s. As he arrived at his hotel with the bird under cover, people were "alarmed at what they heard" because the Ivory-bill's cries resembled "the violent cries of a young child." They laughed with relief when Wilson revealed the bird to them!
Wilson said:

In less than an hour I returned, and, on opening the door, he set up the same distressing shout, which now appeared to proceed from grief that he had been discovered in his attempts at escape. He had mounted along the side of the window, nearly as high as the ceiling, a little below which he had begun to break through. The bed was covered with large pieces of plaster; the lath was exposed for at least fifteen inches square, and a hole, large enough to admit the fist, opened to the weather-boards; so that, in less than another hour he would certainly have succeeded in making his way through.

If you know the story, then you'll recall the mahogany table that this unconquerable bird shattered to bits when Wilson left the room again! Ultimately, the story is heartbreaking, and especially so to Ivory-bill admirers.  The bird died within just 3 days in captivity.

Read Reiko Goto’s‘re-imagination’ of Wilson’s tragic conclusion…

The artwork above is one part of an illustrated text by the artist Reiko Goto. The drawing is a reproduction of Wilson’s Ivory-billed Woodpecker from American Ornithology, volume 4 (1811). To read Reiko’s re-imagined story click here:

Reiko Goto is an ecological artist living and working in Scotland. She is currently a PhD researcher at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. Previously she has been a research fellow at Carnegie Mellon University (1997-2005). Goto’s current research “Empathetic Relationship with Ecological Art” involves a sound-based experimental approach to human interaction and empathy with trees. The work is informed by readings such as ‘On the Problem of Empathy’ by Edith Stein (3rd Edition 1989). The text was originally published in German in 1917.


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