John James Audubon, famous naturalist and wildlife artist, is buried in New York City, not far from Broadway and 155th. That’s well known, but only among dedicates of his body of work or of his legacy. His work, the hundreds of hundreds of hand-colored prints of birds, including 25 species previously unknown to Euro-American naturalists, are not particularly linked to Manhattan, being made from species all over North America, but now they are coming home to roost.
The Audubon Mural Project, a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and Avi Gitler, director of a Manhattan art gallery, plans to bring every one of the 314 birds from the Society’s threatened and endangered lists to the walls, alcoves, and roofs of Audubon’s old neighborhood, in either painted or sculpted form. So far, more than 20 artworks have been completed, representing 35 out of that 314.
The most recent contribution is a six-story-high mural of a fish crow on the wall of an apartment building by Italian artist Hitnes. A devotee of Audubon’s work, Hitnes has spent three months sojourning around the Eastern US, following Audubon’s travels from the early years of the 19th century. The two-day, sixty-foot-high painting of the crow was the capstone to that journey.
The community in the area has responded positively to the project, even those unfamiliar with Audubon’s original body of work. “My main goal was to increase neighborhood pride,” said Mr. Gitler. “Not just pride for the murals, but pride for the neighborhood and its rich history.” In that, he seems to have succeeded.
A local fundraising event in 2014 brought in more than $25,000 for the project, and local bars and restaurants have joined in by creating endangered-bird-themed cocktails, donating proceeds. Mark Jannot, vice president for content for Audubon, hopes to create a sort of bingo card of the themed cocktails, so people can replicate the hobby of birding in hunting down each one.
He also says that finding all of the murals is something like birding itself. Many of them are on roll-down gates throughout the neighborhood, meaning they’re only available when the businesses who own the gates are closed.