Found An Alexander Wilson In My Laundry Room

alexander wilson ruffed grouse I can't remember if I've blogged this or not, but I have a bit of an update if I have. A few years ago, Non Birding Bill came up from the laundry room of our apartment and said, "I can't believe you didn't snatch up that birding painting in the basement."

Our apartment building is often a stopping ground for young adults preparing to purchase a home. Usually when someone moves, they leave behind the books, posters, and small furniture that only a broke college student could love on the off chance some other transitional will want it. I think many of items are the result of spouses saying, "No, honey, that will not be following us to our new home."

And with that you find CD shelves, well used IKEA lamps, Betty Boop posters, various sci fi and fantasy books that most would be afraid to admit were on their shelves no matter how dust covered.  Periodically, NBB will find a treasure in a rare Doctor Who book or old computer part that he swears will not end up in the larder of computer parts in our closet (to be fair, I have a larder of outdoor products in the other closet).

I mentioned to Bill that I glanced at it but it looked a little to inaccurate for my taste.  He replied, "Yeah, but it's a brown bird, you love the brown birds. Plus, it looks like a print from those old bird books you love to collect."

He had a point.  I love early 1900s bird books and I love brown birds. I decided to go down and take a look. In the flourescent glow of the laundry room lights, I noticed it had an Audubon quality to the illustration and I bent down to read the artist's name: Alexander Wilson.  Huh, I had never seen a Wilson print before, but was aware of who he was.

If you are into birds, you may have heard Wilson's name and not realized.  Many birds are named for him like the Wilson's warbler.  As a matter of fact, he has a whole genus named after him (Wilsonia).  There is also the Wilson Ornithological Society named after him.  He was the big cheese in ornithology before Audubon--he was actually an inspiration to John James Audubon and you can see similarities in their painting of North American birds.

Since I knew who Wilson was and it tickled my fancy to find a print...and the frame matched my other frames, I found a place for it on my wall among my turkey vulture paintings and autographed Wheeler sketch...I should do a blog entry on the artwork on the walls of our apartment. It's an odd mix of birding, theater posters, falconry, rabbits, sci-fi, fantasy and just obscure autographs.

I hung it up and never gave it much thought.  I figured that Wilson prints must fall in that category of public domain and everyone had one tucked away.  Once I knew it was a Wilson, it grew on me.  The bird was in a fairly natural position for the time and the detail on for a wild bird painted around the turn of the 19th Century was pretty good. I loved the obscurity of it and only a handful of friends appreciated who it was.

From the dust on the frame and weathered appearance, I imagined that this grouse print belonged to a sensible Minnesota boy who had a grouse hunter grandfather.  When the grandfather died, the painting was bequeathed to the grandson.  Said grandson grew up, moved to Uptown, found a trendy girlfriend with all the right tattoos and piercings (cause that's what girls in my neighborhood do) and they decided to get married and buy a house.  As she shed her piercings and hid her tattoos before the wedding and moving to a quite Woodbury neighborhood, she encouraged him to get rid of the ugly brown chicken painting so it could go to the land of lava lamps and wagon wheel coffee tables.

Then, I stared doing some Wilson research and found places selling Alexander Wilson prints like this one.  At the time, they had my exact grouse print selling for $600.  I continued to scan the Internet from time to time and found it going for anywhere from $300 to $1000.

I thought, "No way, mine has to be a public domain print."

I started searching for public domain prints and could not find any for Wilson.  Huh?  I sent photos to some of the places that sell Wilson prints and sure enough--it's the real deal, a hand painted Alexander Wilson print.  Holy cow!  Who knew that my nerd love for an early ornithologist who documented North American birds who turn into something with a bit of historical value.