NORMAN — Today’s animal biologists live in an age almost totally dependent on digital imagery to record and store their observations. University of Oklahoma Professor Emeritus George M. Sutton (1898-1982) was an ornithologist decidedly of an era past. He was a life-long observer of birds who handpainted his subjects in watercolor and drew their likenesses with pen and ink.
An exhibition of Sutton’s extraordinary pictures of birds and other wildlife go on display at OU’s Sam Noble Museum of Natural History Jan. 18 to April 20.
“There will be 73 of his watercolor paintings,” said Michael McCarty, museum media specialist. “Along with several of Sutton’s personal items from his expeditions.”
Among those artifacts from Sutton’s life is a paint box given to him in 1916 by his mentor and famed bird artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes. The container for paints and brushes was used throughout his entire lifetime of expeditions across North America and into the Arctic wilderness.
“All watercolors on display are from the Sam Noble Museum collection,” McCarty said.
A few of the works depict other varieties of wildlife. They are all incredibly detailed portraits depicted as Sutton saw them in their natural habitat.
“A couple are of fish and there’s one of a wolf,” Museum Head of Exhibits Tom Luczycki said. “All the rest are birds.”
Mostly Sutton stalked his fine feathered friends in Mexico and the Arctic. In one water color a snowy white gyrfalcon with elegant gray feather highlights is perched vigilantly on a boulder by the sea. Sutton signed most works and some are dated. A few note where the painting was done such as on still-uninhabited Jenny Lind Island in Canada’s Queen Maud Gulf.
“There’s a continuing interest in Dr. Sutton and this will be our third major exhibit of his work since we opened in 1999,” Luczycki said. “Mike McCarty is our resident expert on the man and knew him personally.”