Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sobering statuary: "Lost Bird Project" doc screens at Rockwell Museum

Posted By on Wed, Feb 4, 2015 at 5:08 PM

Five larger-than-life bronze representations of extinct bird species are scattered throughout North America, standing like sentinels in the places where each was last sighted. They are shadow-like in their dark patina and sleek, minimal details, silent tributes watching over the places where their species socialized, bred, and fed their young before vanishing from the earth.

The sculpture's creator, artist Todd McGrain, will be present on Thursday, February 5, at the Rockwell Museum (111 Cedar Street, Corning) for a screening of "The Lost Bird Project," a documentary about his work. McGrain will introduce the film and be on hand to answer questions about his work as a sculptor, as well as about his current project, which is on forest elephants of the Central African Republic.

The Lost Bird Project statues were featured in the Memorial Art Gallery's third Rochester-Finger Lakes Biennial in 2008. McGrain's project originated 15 years ago "without a real, clear ambition," he says. He had been working on a sculpture based on the form of a duck when he came across "Hope Is the Thing with Feathers" by Christopher Cokinos, which chronicles the author's relationship to the stories of extinction of North American birds.

McGrain's sculpture became an elegy for the Labrador duck. The last recorded sighting of the species was a bird that had been shot in Elmira, New York, where the sculpture now stands.

The birds McGrain started with -- the Labrador duck, Great auk, Heath hen, Carolina parakeet, and Passenger pigeon -- were selected because they all have very different habitats and ecologies, he says. "The choice of the five helped express a range of extinction stories -- the causes of extinction and the places where it unfolded."

"In general, contemporary extinction is caused by overexploitation and habitat loss," McGrain says. "The Labrador duck was primarily driven to extinction because of pollution on the industrializing eastern seaboard. The Passenger pigeon was driven to extinction because of market hunting."

Since completing the sculptures, McGrain has worked to negotiate permanent placement for them at the sites where each species was last spotted. He traveled with his brother-in-law, Andy Stern, to scout meaningful permanent sites for the sculptures.

click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED

"We began to realize that the stories of placing the birds was one of the ways we could raise awareness about extinction," McGrain says. "Forgetting is another kind of extinction."

They collaborated with Middlemarch films to produce a documentary that tells both the stories of the birds and the journey of getting the memorials placed in locations as diverse as Florida's swamps and Newfoundland's rocky coasts.

"As memorials, the sculptures could help add the history of these animals to the places where they were driven to extinction or last seen in the wild," McGrain says.

McGrain will close the evening with a signing for his recently published book. The event will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. and costs $10 to attend ($5 for students, free to members). Seating is limited, and advance reservations are recommended. For more information, visit


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