A Cultural Cartography of a Migratory Bird's Annual Journey

A Creative Collaboration

Birds of a Feather

Artist Janet Essley, left, with longtime friend and biologist Lee Tibbitts, right.

Artist Janet Essley, left, with longtime friend and biologist Lee Tibbitts, right.

Inspired by the example of Dutch colleagues’ science/art collaborations,

shorebird biologist Lee Tibbitts approached friend and artist Janet Essley with an idea in 2012. That idea was to create visual art that could be used to help the general public appreciate the needs of one species of shorebird whose existence is threatened by loss of habitat. Essley conceived of the concept of charting the migration of Red Knots through styles of art used in the many regions that the birds inhabit during the year. Red Knots: a Cultural Cartography of a Migratory Bird’s Annual Journey is the result.

Essley researched human communities that live near the Red Knots’ routes and chose styles of art that represented those regions. Tibbitts provided guidance in possible themes related to biology, natural history of the birds, and of conservation issues affecting them. She suggested areas for research and provided links to the work of other biologists. Through Lee's efforts, both the Global Flyway Network and the East Asian–Australasian Flyway Partnership became aware of the Cultural Cartography and have used some of Janet's images in public education efforts.

Janet continues to create paintings of these remarkable birds. Her research in art history has been intellectually and aesthetically stimulating, expanding her awareness of visual possibilities and leaving her with a profound respect for the artisans and artists of many cultures. Creating the Cultural Cartography paintings pushed her out of the known territory of her normal painting process, as if she were talking about the birds in a new language with each composition.

The Red Knots Project is not finished.

Janet envisions other paintings related to the Red Knot's biology and habitat conservation issues, with new compositions of Norway, Guinea Bissau, and the United States already in the planning stages. Fascinating combinations of traditional and modern art, resulting from global human migrations, await her exploration. Janet also encourages artists who live near Red Knot ranges, especially those who work in ethnically or regionally identifiable styles, to consider Red Knots or other migratory birds as subject matter for their art. Collaborating with scientists, artists can help communicate information to the public and inspire conservation efforts that will benefit both human and avian populations.

Janet and Lee welcome proposals for collaborations that use the artwork of Red Knots: A Cultural Cartography to promote conservation, environmental, and educational efforts. Please include in your proposal: the names of flyways or paintings of interest; concept for usage; and organizational affiliation. Response time will vary, depending on the season and the artist’s proximity to internet access. Janet is also very interested in collaborating with potential funders and publishers to expand The Red Knots Project into book form. 

Contact The Red Knots Project

Scientific studies of Red Knots continue to reveal new information.
Avian research may also offer insight into human behavior and our own abilities.
Conservation issues for birds, and how they respond, foreshadow what could happen for human populations.
— Janet Essley

Other Members of the Flock

Biologist Theunis Piersma (for whom the subspecies C.c. piersmai is named), has led much of the world-wide research on Red Knots. He has conceived and participated in exciting science/art collaborations in The Netherlands. His support includes suggesting ideas for paintings and sharing The Red Knots Project with people around the world.

Environmental writer Deborah Cramer. Her book The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, an Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey, provided invaluable information for migration sites and research on C.c. rufa.

The East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership is a conservation advocate for all migratory waterbirds and their habitats within the EAA Flyway. Their enthusiastic support of The Red Knots Project is much appreciated.

MB Condon  Content Editor. Web Design. Cheerleader.