The Art of Migration:
Birds, Insects, and the Changing Seasons in Chicagoland
with John Bates and James H. Boone
As millions of tiny, iridescent Japanese beetles begin their annual swarming over rose bushes across Chicagoland, the curious among us might wonder where they all come from. Where they go when they leave. Why they keep coming back. Artist Peggy Macnamara might paint them.
In The Art of Migration, Macnamara shares more than fifty gorgeous watercolors of insects and birds, showing the wondrous creatures that live here year-round as well as those that migrate through one of the flyways that transverse the area. Macnamara’s beautiful images are accompanied by engaging text from John Bates and James Boone, both of whom are with the Field Museum, as well as by a thoughtful foreword from John W. Fitzpatrick, Louis Agassiz Fuertes Director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.
Macnamara is the only artist-in-residence at the Field Museum, and one look at her beautiful paintings explains why. She also serves as adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, associate of the zoology program at the Field Museum, and instructor at the Chicago Public Libraries Nature Connection and Art Institute programs. Not only does she clearly know her stuff, but she loves it, too. Love, wonder, and admiration are evident in her images.
The Art of Migration introduces readers to more than two hundred of the birds and insects that pass through the area. Arranged by season, the book captures images of birds and insects in flight and at rest. Macnamara paints flocks of birds, pupae of insects, and natural habitats. She expertly captures the varying landscapes in which these winged residents dwell and visit. Artist’s Notes are peppered throughout, sharing Macnamara’s thoughts and techniques for painting everything from water to feathers to the tiny hairs on a bumblebee.
Part gift book, part art book, part nature guide, The Art of Migration is a lovely blend of facts and science and art. In addition to detailing many of the birds and insects in the area, Macnamara and her team document the procedures used to organize and record specimens at the Field Museum, and they provide tips for watching birds and insects in Chicagoland. A brief “Further Reading” section entices enthusiasts to explore more.
The Art of Migration should well appeal to a variety of readers. Artists will love Macnamara’s images and artist’s notes. Nature-lovers will find much of interest in the accessible yet authoritative text. Common names of birds and insects are used throughout, although scientific categorizations are used as well, which should appeal to lay readers, amateurs, enthusiasts, and serious birdwatchers alike.
Macnamara’s lovely watercolors are accompanied by a beautifully designed book in a gorgeous trim printed on thick, rich paper. Some of the text, however, is really much too small—nearly microscopic—which makes the act of reading for long stretches a bit tiresome.
Tiny text aside, there is little to distract readers from this lovely book. The Art of Migration is no dry field guide or academic reference. Rather, it is a little treasure, beautiful to look at and enjoyable to read.
July 2013, University of Chicago Press
$25, hardcover, 203 pages
—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen