By Blake Edgar
Dozens of big colorful birds alighted on the concrete in front of Richmond’s City Hall Wednesday morning. More than 30 local artists, both young and old, turned out to “Chalk it Up for Richmond’s Birds and the Year of the Bird,” an event organized by the City of Richmond and Golden Gate Audubon Society. The society’s fourth annual art celebration, this was the first one held in Richmond, which Golden Gate Audubon Executive Director Cindy Margulis called “a city that totally celebrates the arts as well as birds.”
Recorded calls and songs reverberated across Civic Center Plaza while the artists rapidly rendered birds in sidewalk chalk, from Acorn Woodpecker to Brown Pelican. The artists included both professionals and amateurs, Nature Joural Club members, Urban Sketchers, and a wonderful group from Richmond’s NIAD Art Center. A few feet from the front doors of City Hall, GGAS’s Eco-Education Manager Clayton Anderson completed his huge rendering of local celebrity Osprey “Richmond,” with wings outstretched and talons clutching a purple banner that proclaimed “Celebrate Richmond Birds.” Rebeca Garcia-González also picked one of Richmond’s Ospreys, showing the bird landing on its nest atop the historic Whirley Crane.
In the first of several public remarks, Richmond City Manager, Bill Lindsay identified himself as a fan of the nest camera that documents the daily life of “Richmond” and his mate “Rosie.” Lindsay recently discovered that Richmond, Virginia has its own Osprey nest cam. “I’m not saying it’s a competition or anything,” he added, “but their birds already have three eggs.”
Moments later, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt informed the crowd that “Rosie” had lain her second egg of the season on Tuesday night. Then the mayor received cheers and applause by announcing, “I’m moving forward to declare the Osprey as the official bird of the City of Richmond.” He’ll present a resolution to this effect at the City Council meeting on April 17. POSTSCRIPT: Yes, indeed, Richmond made the Osprey its official city bird on April 17, 2018.
“We’re ecstatic that the city is going to make the Osprey the official bird,” said Margulis. “In a fabulous community like Richmond that’s so diverse, birds are one of the ways to bring everybody together. Everybody can get excited about the beauty of birds.”
Beyond appreciating avian aesthetics, the event strove to bring attention to the centennial of congressional passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of the nation’s most important and impactful conservation laws. Volunteers collected signatures on a petition to Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, who represents Richmond. The petition asks that the U.S. Congress maintain strong support of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the face of efforts by the Trump Administration to reinterpret the law to allow industries to evade their responsibility to prevent bird deaths. A statement from Congressman DeSaulnier read during the event declared that “he will fight any effort to undermine the environmental and animal protection laws that are in place.”
Pivoting from politics back to art, Margulis invited all the artists to come forward and share why they had each picked a particular bird. “I chose an Acorn Woodpecker, and I now have an appreciation of all their hard work, said Richmond artist Jessica Burbank, who depicted her bird beside a granary tree stuffed with acorns. “It takes a long time to make all those holes.” Unable to decide on a single pose for depicting the Brown Pelican, Laurie Wigham drew six pelicans displaying different behaviors. As she put it, “This bird just does so many amazing things.”
Two first-time sidewalk chalk artists both selected raptors aloft against a blue sky; Dianne Ayers drew a Red-tailed Hawk grasping a mouse, while Regina Gilligan chose the Red-shouldered Hawk. Gilligan recounted how a Red-shouldered Hawk once flew into her home while pursuing prey flushed from an adjacent bush, but her husband was able to rescue it without injury. Professional bird rescuer J.D. Bergeron, director of International Bird Rescue in Fairfield, opted for a pair of elegant shorebirds, Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet.
The event concluded with complimentary cider to toast the diversity of birds that call Richmond home and the artists who admire and are inspired by them.
To view KCRT TV’s coverage of the chalk art event click here.