© 2024 WEMU
Serving Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, MI
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Feathered Friends Large And Small Flock On Cornell's 'Wall Of Birds'

At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology there is an epic mural called simply The Wall of Birds. It's 100 feet wide and 40 feet tall, and it's the only mural in the world representing all 243 families of modern birds, along with depictions of their evolution over their 375-million-year history. And you don't have to go to Cornell to see it — the mural's birds are now available in book form.

The artist who created this masterwork is Jane Kim — and it's such a masterwork that she's been nicknamed "Michaelangela." She says all the birds are life size, "so there's anything from an eight foot ostrich to a five foot cassowary to the tiniest spatuletail hummingbird." There are also extinct species, representing the evolutionary history of birds.

Interview Highlights

On being a science illustrator

To me it's a field of art that communicates science through visuals. It can be anything from an illustration in a textbook to an illustration in a magazine, or a diorama in a natural history museum. Or simply a large-scale piece of public art that communicates about the natural world.

On reconciling scientific accuracy with artistic expression

Currently I think they are still thought of as two different disciplines, one ... relying solely on accuracy and the other being much more interpretive and about the emotional experience. But I think when the two come together, it can be an incredibly impactful and powerful experience of both information and human experience.

On being inspired by the work of John James Audubon

I have a background in printmaking, and of course all of Audubon's work was hand-colored etchings, and so the detail in his work was something that captured my attention the most. And the details of the birds — observation is really something that captured my attention, and this wall required so much of that. I think ornithologists are the most keen observers out there in the world.

This story was produced for radio by Ned Wharton and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.