The Norman Transcript

N-town stories

January 10, 2014

Museum exhibit connects art and science



Professor Sutton befriended the young McCarty in the late 1970s and their relationship continued until his death in 1982. Norman’s Urban Wilderness Park bears the Sutton moniker along with an OU School of Music concert series. The professor was a music lover and musician himself. McCarty recalls him playing an organ and singing sea shanties for him in the home. The un-groomed park isn’t just named after Sutton; it’s a wooded respite from the city that the ornithologist actually frequented himself. In addition to the frozen north and tropical south, Sutton also watched birds in the wilds of Norman.

“That was one of his favorite places to go, get away from the town and walk around looking at birds,” McCarty said. “He loved that place and went there a lot. There’s a pond at the park so birds are always around.”

OU undoubtedly possesses the bulk of the art work that Sutton produced in a career that started when he was a teenager. For a time in the 1920s he was Pennsylvania’s state ornithologist and some of his work resides in Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum.

“He did over 20,000 study skins of birds during his careers and those are spread out across the country in various scientific institutions,” McCarty said. “OU has around 6,000 of them.”

A search for art dealers selling Sutton’s work privately turned up nothing, which is somewhat unusual for a 20th century artist. In addition to drawings and watercolors Sutton also hand-tinted black and white photo negatives of birds and wilderness scenes for use on lantern slides that could be projected for audience viewing.

“In the days before color photography it gave people a truer feeling for these remote places that most had never been to,” Luczycki said.

Fourteen of these one-of-a kind slides from a technology seldom used today will be part of the exhibit. Sutton rarely worked with oil paints and no acrylics at all. Many of his pictures were used on the covers and within natural science periodicals. He authored 18 books about birds and his illustrations appeared in many others. A biography of Sutton’s life was published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 2007. Dr. Jerome A. Jackson, recently retired professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, authored the book.

“Sutton was a master with pen and ink and with watercolor,” Jackson wrote. “He knew birds; he knew his medium; he understood light.”

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