Vivid birds on display in special exhibition
September 28, 2023
In the early 1920s, Willard Ayers Eliot hired a well-known natural history artist, R. Bruce Horsfall, to paint 56 works to illustrate Eliot's book "Birds of the Pacific Coast." Published in 1923, this popular and enduring bird identification book saw at least five editions. Eliot was deeply involved with the Oregon Audubon Society (OAS, now Portland Audubon), and in 1941, he donated the Horsfall paintings to OAS. Portland Audubon donated 55 of Horsfall's vibrant illustrations to the Oregon Historical Society in 2019, keeping a single illustration for themselves-the Rufous Hummingbird.
Now, 100 years after the original printing of "Birds of the Pacific Coast," OHS will display all 55 Horsfall illustrations preserved in its museum collection, as well as the Rufous Hummingbird, on loan from Portland Audubon, alongside information about many of the birds depicted in the paintings.
Megan Lallier-Baron, curator of the exhibition, says that what interests her most about the paintings is that together they illustrate "the perfect combination of how art can be aesthetically pleasing and informative."
Visitors will also learn more about how to start birding in their own parks and neighborhoods so they can enjoy the very creatures that Horsfall preserved on paper.
"We wanted the exhibit to inspire individuals who don't bird at all," said Lallier-Baron. She hopes the paintings "give that spark-whether it be in their backyard or the environment."
The exhibition, titled "Birds of the Pacific Coast: The Illustrations of R. Bruce Horsfall," is on view now at the Oregon Historical Society's museum in downtown Portland through May 21, 2024.
R. Bruce Horsfall was born in 1869, in Clinton, Iowa. As a child he took an interest in art and was especially captivated in his family's pets and wildlife around his home. As a teenager and young adult, Horsfall studied art, first in Cincinnati, Ohio, and later abroad in Germany. During his artistic career, Horsfall would become internationally known by having his work featured in magazines and books and through his work with museums.
Between 1914 to 1924, Horsfall, along with his wife, Carra, and son, Robert Bruce Horsfall, Jr., lived in Oregon. He became involved with the Oregon Audubon Society, a connection that lasted even after moving away from Oregon. Alongside William Finley and others, Horsfall participated in a survey of wildlife in and around Klamath Lake. His artwork also featured in OAS publications, including "Birds of the Pacific Coast" and "Bluebirds Seven," published in 1978.
For those unable to visit the exhibition in person, all 55 illustrations can be found online through the OHS Museum Collection portal.
The Oregon Historical Society's museum is open seven days a week, Monday–Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m.–5 p.m. Admission is $10, with discounts for students, seniors, teachers, and youth. Admission is free every day for OHS members and Multnomah County residents. Learn more and plan your visit at ohs.org/visit.