“Nine Birds,” an exhibition of watercolors by Don Brown, is on display at Centenary College’s Meadows Museum of Art in Shreveport through January 31, 2017.

The talents of Donnell Adair Brown (1899-1958), founder of Centenary College’s Art Department, went beyond making art to writing, navigating, and boat building.

Don Brown
Don Brown

Whether at his Caddo Lake camp or sailing down the Red River en route to the Gulf of Mexico, Brown took artistic inspiration from the outdoors, especially the landscapes, flora, and fauna of East Texas and Louisiana.  His art classes frequently convened at these locations, beginning the Art Department’s commitment to experiential education outside the classroom, something continued to this day through this exhibit researched by Studio Art major Tyler Nale.

In 1943, Brown created twenty watercolors of birds for display in Centenary’s Biology Department; only the nine paintings at the Meadows remain.  To prepare, he relied heavily upon the work of John James Audubon, at times changing only the settings to the local landscapes he loved.  One of the birds he depicted, the ivory-billed woodpecker, has since been declared extinct, with its last definite sighting occurring the year after Brown’s painting.  The ivory-billed woodpecker was a spectacular, large bird with a distinctive call that haunted southeastern woods for ages, until its numbers were diminished by logging and collectors.  In 2004, a naturalist claimed to have seen the bird in an Arkansas swamp, leading the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to search 520,000 acres across eight southeastern states.  In 2008, the Nature Conservancy also offered a $50,000 reward.  None of these efforts has produced another sighting.  Brown’s original composition and setting lead viewers to question whether he depicted the Ghost Bird from life, perhaps from his boat or cabin on Caddo Lake.

On Thursday, November 17 at 7PM, Dr. Victoria Cummins, Professor of History at Austin College, will give a free lecture entitled, “From the Lost Generation to the Liberal Arts: Don Brown’s Journey to Centenary,” in which she will share highlights from her extensive research on the artist.  Refreshments will be served.

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