Bringing Extinct Birds Back to Life, One Cartoon at a Time

Filmmaker Ceri Levy was working on a documentary called The Bird Effect, about how our feathered friends influence our lives, when he took on a side project, organizing an exhibition, “Ghosts of Gone Birds,” at the Rochelle School in London in November 2011.

"Its purpose was to highlight the risk of extinction that is faced by many bird species in the world today,” Levy noted. “The premise of the show was to get artists to represent an extinct species of birds, and to breathe life back into it.”

Levy sent a list of nearly 200 extinct bird species to famous artists, musicians, writers and poets, inviting them to create bird-centric pieces. A cut of the profits from the sale of the artwork would go to BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme, which aims to protect 197 critically endangered bird species.

Acclaimed poet and novelist (also, environmental activist) Margaret Atwood knitted a Great auk—a large flightless seabird last seen off of Newfoundland in 1852. Sir Peter Blake, a British pop artist who famously designed the cover of the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, submitted a collage, titled “Dead as a Dodo,” which consists of a long list of extinct and endangered birds. But the most prolific contributor by far was Ralph Steadman. The British cartoonist, who illustrated the 1967 edition of Alice in Wonderland and Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, painted more than 100 colorful and sometimes silly birds—or “boids,” as he called them in emails to Levy. - Continue reading at Smithsonian.com.

Illustrations by Ralph Steadman

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