Louis Agassiz Fuertes1874 - 1927
Born: February 7, 1874, Ithaca, New York
Died: August 22, 1927, Potter's Crossing, Unadilla, New York
A well-known painter and illustrator of birds, Louis Agassiz Fuertes was born on February 7, 1874 in Ithaca, New York. He was named after Louis Agassiz, a Harvard professor and naturalist. Growing up in Ithaca, Fuertes displayed an early interest in depicting birds. At the age of 14, he painted his first bird -- a male Red Crossbill. In 1892, he went on a family trip to Europe, where he was exposed to old master artworks, as well as many new species of birds. His parents' disapproval of painting as a career led him to enroll in Cornell University's Engineering School in 1893, from which institution he would graduate with an architecture degree, and also teach from 1923-1927. Upon graduating from college, he studied art for a year with Abbot H. Thayer, with whom he would remain in contact throughout his life. Another mentor Fuertes regarded highly was Elliot Coues, a leading ornithologist at the time.
Fuertes created paintings and illustrations of birds for numerous books and magazines. For Arm & Hammer baking soda, he did a series of bird cards that were inserted into the product boxes, and which children enjoyed collecting. Fuertes was a member of several expeditions, one being the Harriman Alaska expedition in 1899, which allowed him to study and draw birds from around the world. His travels led him to explore Europe, Africa, Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, and the Bahamas. In his personal life, Fuertes married Margaret F. Sumner in 1904; they had two children.
Fuertes did extensive field research, sketching birds in their natural habitats, and collecting specimens for studio resources. He had an innate ability to recreate a bird's coloring, anatomy, and position, as well as a capacity to recall precise detail from memory. Sadly, on August 22, 1927, Fuertes died when a train collided with his and his wife's car at Potter's Crossing, Unadilla, New York.
"I still stick out for knowledge; good, sound, deep and appreciative knowledge as the one fundamental basic prerequisite of all art, and particularly of naturalistic art; my simple credo: it's easy, however, to believe in truth, as an abstract conception; quite another thing to discover and crystallize this truth into visible and permanent form."
(Quote from: Peck, Robert McCracken. Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927). Southwest Art, Nov. 1983:142).