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About the Illustrations

Illustrator's Comments:
                           Michael Berndt

I’m a longtime artist, experienced in acrylic paint, mostly landscape and portraiture. However, I have never illustrated a book before, children’s or adult, so this project posed some unique challenges for me. I was asked to create a series of illustrations depicting the efforts to save the Heath Hen, efforts that ultimately did not succeed, as this book details. 

These collaborative sessions with Christie were the foundation of what would develop into the finished images. Because of her depth of knowledge and expertise on the subject matter, she had a clear vision of what she wanted these images to represent, and she was an excellent resource when it came to getting the details right. But she was also open-minded and willing to defer to me when it came to the more artistic issues like composition and color palette.

From these discussions I developed an overall tone and style which I applied to each individual image. Of course, there were variations as well - the image of the Heath Hen standing proud in the sunrise has a brighter, more vibrant tone, while the painting of the devastating fire is dark and foreboding. This latter work was perhaps the most technically challenging to me, and I avoided it until nearly the end of the project. 


What became one of my most important resources was an old 1930s film. Thanks to the online archive at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where Alfred Gross had been a biology professor, I was able to see a masterfully restored film created by Dr. Gross that chronicled the fateful day he and Burgess captured, banded and released dear Booming Ben, the subject of this work. 


This film not only provided me with many important visual references, it also connected me with the subject in a deeply emotional way. This connection is what prompted me to begin this project by painting Thornton Burgess holding the Heath Hen, an image which, for me, holds a massive emotional weight.


I’d like to offer my thanks to Bowdoin College for providing this resource and I recommend that anyone interested in further understanding this story watch the film. It is beautiful and absolutely heart wrenching. 

Author's Comments:
                           Christie Lowrance

As a longtime writer, I am accustomed to working in the cozy privacy of my own head, with little or no need to confer on artwork. For The Last Heath Hen, however, I needed someone to interpret what I saw in that cozy privacy.  I knew Mike Berndt was adept at painting landscape, people, and creatures, but little else about him, but when I saw his first picture, I knew unquestionably I had the right artist. For a year, we worked together on the technical accuracy of his paintings, from the length of the heath hen’s beak and claws to the shape of the trap and the band numbers. Mike always saw what I saw or hoped to see. Still, I marvel that he knew exactly what I imagined when I asked him to paint the inside of the hunting blind!


My objectives for this children’s book were three-fold: appeal to children and expand their understanding; document a conservation story; and inform environmental educators and influencers. Since writing Nature’s Ambassador, I have been impressed with how little is known in the conservation field about the critical contributions of a children’s writer to early 20th century conservation history and values. This one story, described in Burgess’ autobiography, is beautifully enhanced by Mike Berndt’s artistic sensitivity and talent.

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