One Tank Trip

One Tank Trip: Berman Museum of Art

COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. - We were just in the midst of a blizzard. Soon though, we'll see the first signs of spring. It is hard to imagine a world where beautiful birds no longer exist. 

A new exhibit shows the reality through art. Extinct birds were literally cut out of prints. The cut-outs were burned and the ashes are now in nearby urns.

It's one of the haunting works at the Berman Museum of Art on the Ursinus College campus in Collegeville, Montgomery County. The idea for the exhibit began with a realization that ornithologist and painter John James Audubon once lived just four miles from the college. 

"As the crow flies, of course, so doing an exhibition of his prints from the 19th century juxtaposed and rubbing against contemporary artwork seemed to make a lot of sense," explained Charlie Stainback, Berman's director.

The queen of England was a fan of Audubon's prints. The originals at the museum are on loan, and they are displayed next to modern art. One of the displays is a stunning tower of TVs.    

The piece is an homage to now-extinct passenger pigeons that once numbered in the billions. 

"It is a way to speak about the monumental loss of the passenger pigeon and the fact that it goes all the way up 22 feet in the air is a feat of engineering," Stainback said.

Humor lightens the load like the dodo bird. There's a three-foot-tall recreation of one at the museum. 

The artist spent years making two models. He then took them to Mauritius Island, where they were last seen in 1662, and he photographed them at home.

They are so lifelike that, for a moment, you'll forget they are gone.

Other pigeons are still leading lives of adventure.

Map: Berman Museum of Art


Fifty homing pigeons wore harnesses and were trained to fly from Key West to Cuba and back again. Half were used as smugglers; the other half were documentarians. All the birds had entertaining names to go along with their jobs. Eleven pigeons made it back, along with two cigars.

Their journey is now documented in a work of art.

All of the pieces seem to go together seamlessly, but what's interesting is they've never all appeared in an exhibit together before. 

All were created on their own, in a common theme. One piece, a wall mural, was commissioned by Berman. It was created by American artist James Prosek. The piece features the silhouettes of birds but doesn't offer a key, so you're left to figure it out on your own. 

Perhaps without names and identifications, you can just enjoy what's in front of you.

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