By Ed Montgomery

For The Transcript

George Miksch Sutton, one of the world’s outstanding ornithologists and producer of bird pictures, was a Norman resident for his last 30 years. And, strange to say, there has never been a full Sutton biography. Until now.

What a natural subject for this University of Oklahoma Press book.

“George Miksch Sutton, Artist, Scientist, and Teacher” is a brilliantly told story of a fascinating life by a long-time friend and colleague of Sutton, Jerome A. Jackson.

When he was 7 George found he could make a few pennies selling bird pictures. At 10 he talked a professor who was interested in birds into taking him on as a helper. He published his first bird journal article at 15.

After graduating from Bethany College, Sutton entered graduate school at Corneal University. At age 25 he became the first Pennsylvania state ornithologist.

He received his Ph.D. from Cornell, having skipped the masters. He was given “residential credit,” Jackson writes, for time spent on a winter-long Southhampton field trip.

Twenty years before he moved to Oklahoma Sutton fell in love with the Black Mesa country at the western edge of the Panhandle.

“A place that enchanted him,” Jackson says, “drawing him back time after time for the rest of his life. . .

“Throughout his years at the University of Michigan, George’s hopes were with the setting sun — south and west to the red, dusty prairie and the Black Mesa country of Oklahoma. Once he had made up his destination, this is where his allegiance would be, and here at last he would achieve the kind of academic stature and recognition that would match his already scientific and artistic accomplishments.”

When he moved to Norman in the spring of 1952, Sutton’s latest book, “Mexican Birds: First Impressions,” had just been released by his new publisher, the OU Press.

He had big ideas for Oklahoma ornithology, Jackson wrote, and for starters he had Margaret Morse Nice’s Oklahoma bird book, four good graduate students, “beautiful birds and great places for birding near Norman” and the Cleveland County Bird Club.

One of Sutton’s first moves was to establish a bird range in a former gun shed next to Stovall Museum.

He still found time for field work and writing. In 1962 he received the John Burroughs Award for “Iceland Summer.”

He worked for 15 years to bring the Nice book up to date and in 1967 published “Oklahoma Birds.” He was inducted in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame that year. He had received OU’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Citation, in 1964.

State law required Sutton to retire in 1968 when he reached 70 years.

“He merely shifted gears,” Jackson says, “and proceeded full speed as research professor emeritus.”

Sutton died in 1982 and did not live to see ground broken for the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in 1996.

“It would become everything George had dreamed of for the University of Oklahoma,” the author says.

Trending Video