Old Lyme - Hundreds of original paintings, photographs and drawings by Roger Tory Peterson, the famed artist, ornithologist and town resident until his death in 1996, will be sold at auction on Sept. 8.
Author of the famed "Field Guides" series, Peterson is credited with creating volumes that enabled avid birders and other wildlife enthusiasts to easily identify flora and fauna. Once called "the Audubon of the 20th century," Peterson, who did much of the artwork for his books in a studio next to his Old Lyme home, published his first volume in 1934 and continued to create new paintings until his death at age 87, his stepdaughter, Linda Westervelt of Old Lyme, said Sunday.
"They're iconic, really," Westervelt said of his many works.
Westervelt said she and her sister, Mimi Westervelt, inherited the extensive collection from their mother, Virginia Westervelt Peterson, who died in 2001. Guernsey's Auctioneers & Brokers is conducting the auction, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Arader Galleries on Madison Avenue in New York City. A public preview will take place from noon to 8 p.m. Sept. 7.
The auction includes about 250 original paintings created for his Field Guide to Eastern Birds, and well as the companion guides to western birds, European and Mexican birds and wildflowers. It will also include his paintings of penguins - his favorite birds - along with book covers, pencil-and-ink drawings and about 200 of his photographs, as well as his binoculars, cameras and his very first oil painting, of two American widgeons. Thirty-five Audubon prints also in the collection will also be offered for sale, Westervelt said.
Starting prices on the items range from $7,500 for the wigeon painting, to $6,000 for a painting of robins and thrushes, and $4,000 for one of California condors, to the low hundreds for drawings of wildflowers. The starting price for many of the bird paintings are in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Montages of terns, owls, seabirds and woodpeckers, for example, are offered at $2,500 each. A pair of his Bushnell binoculars starts at $400.
Westervelt, who recently completed a book about her stepfather, "Where Bluebirds Fly," said her father mainly worked in gouache and watercolor, creating his detailed images from his own stuffed bird specimens or those kept in museum collections. Much of the rest of Peterson's collection was given to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, N.Y., his hometown.
Peterson moved in 1952 to Old Lyme, a location he chose because it was halfway between his publisher in Boston and his art agent in New York. But he also found there some of his favorite birding spots, such as Connecticut River marshes where thousands of migrating swallows congregate for dramatic swirling flight displays in the fall, and the nearby Great Island preserve, Westervelt said. The Great Island marshes were renamed the Roger Tory Peterson Natural Area after a state-funded restoration project in 2002.
Trained at the Artist Student League and the National Academy of Design, both in New York City, Peterson knew from a young age that he wanted to share his love for birds and wildlife with the public, Westervelt said.
"It was just a passion for him," she said. "He always described himself as a teacher."