Illustrated Biography and Companion Exhibition to Explore Work of Wildlife Artist Arthur Singer

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Rochester Institute of Technology is publishing a new book and hosting a companion exhibition documenting the life and work of one of the world’s finest painters of birds, Arthur Singer.

Arthur Singer with camera

Arthur Singer with camera

A new book and companion exhibition will document the life and work of one of the world’s finest painters of birds. Arthur Singer (1917-1990) redefined the concept of the bird guide with his 1966 release, The Golden Field Guide to Birds of North America, and millions have enjoyed Singer’s work published in books, magazines, prints and commemorative stamps.

The biography, Arthur Singer: The Wildlife Art of an American Master, written by his two sons, Paul and Alan Singer, illustrated profusely with color images, is published by RIT Press, the scholarly publishing enterprise at Rochester Institute of Technology.

The exhibition, whose title shares the same name as the book, will be on display at the RIT University Gallery, located inside the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences’ James E. Booth Hall, from Aug. 7 to Oct. 28. The famed artist’s sons, who co-curated the exhibition, will recount the stories behind some of their father’s iconic artwork and illustrious life during a reception inside the gallery from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 8. The reception is free and open to the public and the talk will begin at 5:30 p.m.

“For years, my father had been in the field drawing and photographing birds, and knowing their behavior, he felt they should be shown naturalistically,” said Alan Singer, a School of Art professor in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. “He added light and shadow and developed paintings in his bird guides that show the environment where birds are often seen.”

Born in New York City in 1917, Arthur Singer began illustrating wildlife as a young teenager after admiring the work of John James Audubon and taking family trips to the Bronx Zoo and the American Museum of Natural History. Singer loved jazz music, and in the 1930s, he befriended jazz greats including Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, earning early commercial success drawing caricatures of the artists that would be published in local newspapers and jazz magazines across the country. After receiving an art degree from The Cooper Union, Singer joined the army following the U.S. entry into World War II.

When a general noticed Singer’s considerable talent painting a watercolor, Singer was transferred to the top-secret Company C of the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, where he spent three years creating camouflage and other forms of visual deception to mislead German intelligence. The story of this group of artists, dubbed “The Ghost Army,” was chronicled in a 2014 PBS documentary by the same name.

Following the war’s conclusion and a brief stint in the advertising industry, Singer found his calling as a full-time illustrator and artist depicting wildlife, most notably birds. Singer produced some of his most popular works in the 1950s and ’60s, including Birds of the World, and his guide to Birds of North America, which is still in print after selling millions of copies.

Millions saw Singer’s illustrations in 1982 when the U.S. Postal Service issued a set of 50 official state bird and flower stamps illustrated by Singer and his son and co-author of the biography, Alan Singer. The set became one of the best-selling commemorative stamp sheets in U.S. postal history.

The Singer brothers worked on the book and exhibition for more than two years to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their father’s death, poring over letters, never-before-seen illustrations and other mementos from the artist’s personal collection. “This is first time the public will be able to get to see a cross section of my father’s life work from his childhood to his last years,” said Alan Singer. In all, he said, the RIT exhibition will feature more than 100 artworks underscoring his father’s major achievements, including 20 books he illustrated as well as his hugely popular Birds and Flowers stamps.

Arthur Singer: The Wildlife Art of an American Master is available to preorder in hardcover for $60 at the RIT Press website or by calling RIT Press at 585-475-6766. Copies will begin shipping in July. The book will also be offered for sale at the show’s opening.

In addition, a list of guest speakers will participate in the exhibition, including:

  •     John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, will talk at 5:30 p.m. Sept. on 14.
  •     Author David Wagner, who will speak about the history of wildlife art in America at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 21.

Rick Beyer, author of the book and documentary titled The Ghost Army, will speak and present his documentary at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 5.

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