Roseate Spoonbills Vertical
60" x 84" unframed
67" x 91" framed
© SHELLEY HESSE 2015
This piece is the first and the largest of all the big pieces I have done since my children were born. Over 5 feet wide and 7 feet tall, it is the anchor at the end of our center hall. Inscribed on the back is a love letter to Louisa and Graham and to all the babies who live in the wild who inspire me daily. I had not painted in the months leading up to their birth or in the months after, as I was completely consumed with this new love that expanded my world, magnified it, widened it, and made the beauty around me crystal clear and sharp as a tack. I had never dared paint anything so massive. Everything changed around me. This painting of two spoonbills represents the inexplicable magic in life- the birth of babies, the flight of a bird, any one thing that pushes us further into living and loving life.
I know that I must have been a Roseate Spoonbill in a past life. Never has a bird spoken to my soul in quite the way that the Roseate Spoonbill has. These birds haunt me and pop up in my imagination again and again. It is a wading bird of the ibis and spoonbill family whose legs, neck, and spatulate bill all appear elongated. Like the flamingo, their pink color is diet-derived, and their colors can range from pale pink to bright magenta, depending on age and location. Unlike herons, spoonbills fly with their necks outstretched. They live in mangrove swamps, mud flats, and other marsh type habitat from southern Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and Florida, then south through Central America and down to Argentina. The spoonbill wades in both fresh and saltwater wetlands, using its bill to scoop fish, small crabs, crustaceans, insects, and frogs. Hunting is done more by touch than sight.
This beautiful, large, and gregarious bird was nearly hunted to extinction in the last part of the 19th century. Its pink feathers were used in ladies' hats, and its wings were sold as fans. By 1939, about 30 birds remained in Florida. Interestingly, the spoonbill's pink plumage quickly fades once the feathers are no longer attached to a living bird. The good news is Roseate Spoonbills have made a comeback and currently have many champions monitoring and advocating for them, particularly the Gulf Restoration Network and Audubon of Florida. Now over a thousand pairs nest in Florida where they are stable along the Gulf Coast, yet still sinking in numbers in the broad estuary between the Everglades and the Keys.
“When an anonymous artist incised an owl in the cave at Chauvet, there were probably fewer people on earth than there are in the Greater Toronto area today. Every human being lived in a rich and productive ecosystem. Life was relatively easy, and would remain so for another twenty thousand years.
Birds had been around for more than 150 million years by the time humans appeared on the scene. We came to self-awareness surrounded by them, and as there were few of us, birds would not yet have learned to fear us: as Charles Darwin and others discovered, they could have been knocked off their nests with a stick.
How long have we been enchanted by birds?
Forever it seems.”