|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Known as Connecticut's 20th-Century Audubon, Rex Brasher was born in
1869 in Brooklyn, New York, and as a youngster became fascinated with
birds, largely due to the influence of his father, an avid naturalist
and bird taxidermist. In 1878, at the age of eight, Brasher
determined to paint all the birds of North America from life--and
better than Audubon. He started painting birds seriously around
age 16, but none of his early paintings has survived.|
determination to study birds in their natural surroundings took Brasher
to all corners of North America. He financed his first trip, down
the east coast from Maine to Florida, by working as a photoengraver.
Most of his other trips were financed by betting on horse races.
One of his most successful bets netted $10,000 and financed an
extensive trip to the Midwest. At one point, after losing most of
his money on a bad bet, he took a job on a fishing boat. He was
then able to earn a living while studying and sketching sea
birds. During his years of artistic work he often found it
necessary to make financial ends meet by doing laboring tasks of all
kinds, including road building and house painting.
On his trips
to the West, Midwest and Gulf Coast, Brasher traveled by train and on
foot. He lived both in the East and in Phoenix, Arizona, where he is listed as a resident in the 1940 Who Was Who in American Art. Sometimes he walked the countryside for months at a time,
stopping along the way to mail home his sketches and notes.
Between trips he painted in an apartment in New York City. His
determination to make his bird paintings as lifelike as possible, led
him twice to destroy all of the paintings he had done, a total of at
least 700 works.
In 1907, while studying the bird-skin collection of the American Museum
of Natural History, Brasher met the famous bird painter, Louis Agassiz
Fuertes, who became his good friend and a major influence on his
artistic techniques. It was during this time that he learned new
techniques for painting feathers that satisfied his artistic standards.
1911, Rex spent a $700 commission received for illustrating a book to
purchase a 150-acre farm in Kent, Connecticut. He called his farm
Chickadee Valley. It was there in 1924, after 47 years of work,
that he finished his task. Among his paintings were 1200 species
and sub-species of birds listed on the American Ornithologists Union
(AOU) Checklist of North American Birds. Brasher's paintings
included more than twice as many birds as Audubon's, who painted
489. Brasher worked from direct observation and portrayed the
birds in natural activities and habitats, including associated plants
whenever possible. He considered that his 874 paintings, which
were placed on exhibition in 1932 at the English Book Shop in New York
City, represented a completion of the work begun by John James Audubon.
1935, Brasher offered his paintings to the State of Connecticut,
providing that a suitable repository could be found for them.
Three years later he took the pictures back after various attempts to
raise funds for a museum in which to display them had failed. The
paintings were then sent to Washington, D. C. to be exhibited as Birds
and Trees of North America in the Explorers Hall of the National
Brasher wanted to see his paintings
published but discovered that it would be far too expensive to print
all 874 of his paintings in color. To solve this problem he had
the Meriden Gravure Company make black and white reproductions, which
he then hand-colored using stencils and an airbrush. The text was
written by his niece Marie and printed by the New Milford Times.
The covers were made by a bookbinder on Long Island, and the volumes
were assembled in a renovated barn in Chickadee Valley. In all,
100 sets of 12 volumes were produced, including almost 90,000 hand
In 1941, the State of Connecticut bought
the Brasher collection for $74,000, storing it in the basement of the
State Capitol in Hartford. Twelve years later it began to exhibit
the paintings in rotation in a large manor house bequeathed to the
state by the widow of Edward S. Harkness at the Harkness Memorial State
Park overlooking Block Island.
When decreasing funding at
Harkness Memorial made it impractical to continue to exhibit the
paintings there, a new home was sought for them at the University of
Connecticut. Through the efforts of Carl Rettenmeyer, founder of
the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and faculty member
emeritus, ownership was transferred from the Department of
Environmental Protection to the university, and the collection was
deposited in the Homer Babbidge Library. Recently, the collection
has been inventoried, stored in acid-free conservation boxes, and
relocated to the Dodd Research Center in an environment designed to
preserve this unique body of work for generations to come. The
Museum of Natural History hopes one day to have an appropriate facility
in which to exhibit selections from the collection on a permanent basis.
Brasher worked until two years before his death, when his eyesight
failed him. He died in 1960, at his home in Kent, at the age of 91.
Doris Dawdy, Artists of the American West, Vol. 2
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
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