Edmund Joseph Sawyer, March 1, 1880, and orphaned at a tender
age, this son of Captain Robert Sawyer, Coast Guard veteran on
the Great Lakes, the character of our present interest was
fascinated by birds.
Fortunately for himself and posterity he was led to skip some 12
years of formal schooling to become source material for
ornithologists around the country at the turn of the century. An
accident occurred while in the early grades which headed him in
the right direction. At a new school, the teacher, wishing to
get acquainted with her charges, asked them to list all the
birds they knew and tell al they knew about each. Dad's paper
was held up before the class as an example of ignorance. Only
one bird, the Robin. What she did not notice was a page full of
personal observations - nest, eggs, lifestyle, habitat.... the
works. And not from a book. This bird was only one of a possible
60 that he could have thus described, but time ran out. Said he,
"I left school that day and never went back."
In 1902, he painted the famous
(if not the most famous) picture of a Robin singing on a bough
of apple blossoms as the first color plate in the Audubon
Society's Educational leaflets. A dozen followed and other
artists appeared along the way. These and other commissions
eared the title "Dean of American bird Artists".
His finest paintings are
modeled by over 10,000 field sketches, preserved today in his
daughter's home on a 400-acre wildlife refuge in New Jersey.
Many of his original paintings and prints are found locally at
the home of his granddaughter, Elaine Sawyer Whittemore, in East
While listening to Mr. Sawyer
lecturing a group of hikers in Yellowstone Park in 1924, an
official found his interpretive skill to be needed as Park
Naturalist. Thus dad became the second appointee to that
position in the first national park in history. Later back east
he served as New York State field ornithologist. His artistry
adorns the walls of institutions in Yellowstone and in Albany,
Syracuse, Ogdensburg, Buffalo and Cornell University. These
places also show him as an accomplished taxidermist, exhibiting
birds mounted in habitat with appropriately painted background
of fields, hills and woods.
His last home, chosen to be a
haven for bird life, was on Vashon Island, Puget Sound. It was
there in February 1971 that he passed away, alert and active
till the last few days.
shall treasure the memory of a father who, in spite of what
would appear as insurmountable obstacles to lesser souls,
achieved a position unique in American literature and art. His
"Poems of Nature and Wildlife" are seen as the product on one.
Who through long days of labor,
and night devoid of ease,
Still heard in his sould the music
of wonderful melodies. --Longfellow