Friday, July 23, 2010

Doug James congratulated by Joe Neal on the occasion of Professor James' 85th birthday coming up Sunday

My friend and ornithological mentor, Doug James, will open his 85th year on July 25. Just for the record, he was born in Detriot in 1925. I will be out of town on the 25th, so I’ll just have my say right here, right now.

Doug and I go back to 1977 when our shared interest in art and nature found us working together on an art exhibit. I’d been traveling to the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a pilgrim, studying the life and art of Walter Inglis Anderson of Ocean Springs. He was the celebrator of the natural history of the Gulf Coast, and especially Horn Island, now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore. He died in 1965, but his family accepted and nurtured my interest.

Artists Robert Ross, Neppie Conner, Martha Sutherland and others in the University art community were interested in having a Walter Anderson show in Fayetteville. His family was willing to loan to us, no strings attached. This grew into plans for two galleries (Oct 3-22, 1977), with some work in the Arkansas Union Gallery (now the Annie Kittrell Gallery) and the Fine Arts Gallery. Annie Kittrell (Arkansas Union Programs), Billie Giese (an art student), and I drove a UA van to Ocean Springs and loaded it up with what would today be millions of dollars of art. VOILA, we had drawings, paintings, pottery, and hand-carved furniture.

Anderson was an avid birdwatcher and bird drawer. He painted birds on pottery and carved them in wood. He created huge murals with birds as central figures. We really needed a bird expert to help us interpret Anderson for the exhibits. This is where Doug came in. He showed up at the Union Gallery and began examining the art in a professorial manner. His notes provided the basis for tags on the bird pieces that were meaningful in an ornithological way.

Besides traveling to the Gulf Coast trying to figure out Walter Anderson (and myself), I had been writing weekly feature stories for a newspaper, the Grapevine. Doug had seen my bird pieces. Before we were done with the Anderson exhibit, we had started talking about his state bird book project. My features tended heavy on poetic phrase and light on science. I don’t know if Doug approved of them in an ornithological way, but he knew I was interested in birds and nature, and especially that I could write. That is, he saw potential in me as a collaborator on what became Arkansas Birds (1986).

Looking over the 30+ years of friendship, I can see that what happened between Doug and I over the Anderson show has been repeated with others. He has seen in many a rough-hewn graduate student potential others couldn’t see; he provided opportunity for potential to flower. Off campus, he has encouraged the public to become involved in ornithology. Consider his role in founding Arkansas Audubon Society. As president of Wilson Ornithological Society, he encouraged networks between professional and non-professional bird enthusiasts. He helped found and then helped resuscitate Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society.

I could go on here, but … Happy Birthday, Doug. Once the beers and cake are downed, there’s more work to do. We are glad at your being freshly minted at 85 and we look forward to sharing with you the work ahead.

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