Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version



Johnsgard, "The Art and Artistic Legacy of Louis Agassiz Fuertes," in Nebraska Bird Review (2006) 74(4): 132–141.


Copyright 2006, Nebraska Ornithologists' Union. Used by permission.


Perhaps some Nebraska birders will not immediately recognize the name Louis Agassiz Fuertes, as he died almost 80 years ago. Yet he influenced the art of bird painting as much as did John James Audubon, and provided wonderful artwork for many major state bird reference books. He also personally tutored George Miksch Sutton, the Nebraska-born artist and biologist who provided the NOU with its Burrowing Owl logo, and who contributed greatly to American ornithology, especially that of the southern Great Plains.

It is interesting that, like John James Audubon, Roger Tory Peterson, and George Miksch Sutton, we would never think of referring to Louis Agassiz Fuertes in any other way than including his middle name. It is not that there have ever been or will ever be another Louis Fuertes with whom we might possibly confuse him; Fuertes had no comparable antecedent. Dr. Livingstone Farrand, Cornell University's president at the time of Fuertes' tragic death, did not hesitate to schedule a memorial service for him in Willard Straight Hall on the University campus on October 30, 1927. When reminded that such action for a nonacademic was without precedent in Cornell's history, Dr. Farrand simply replied, "There is no precedent for Louis Agassiz Fuertes." And so there was none. Like Mozart, he arose from moderate obscurity, exploded in a shower of unmatched talent, and disappeared all too soon, leaving the world to cherish his work but also to grieve and wonder what sort of elemental mix could ever produce such a person.