EDMUND JOSEPH SAWYER
"Dean of American Bird Artists"
Submitted by his son, Laurance Sawyer
 

Born 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 Ellijay.

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.

This writer 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

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