Jessie Arms Botke (1883-1971) has been dubbed the “Art Deco Audubon” for her many, many paintings of birds. I discovered her this weekend because of the painting above, which I find delightful.
I also like this tapestry, which she designed. As to how she came to do so many paintings of peacocks:
Chicago born, Botke had a job in New York designing tapestries and interiors. Her career-defining moment came when client Billie Burke—now remembered for playing the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz—requested a frieze of white peacocks. “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a white peacock and went up to the Bronx Zoo to find out, and they had one,” recalled Botke. “It was love at first sight.”
Botke moved to California in 1919, living on a ranch near Ventura. She was a very trendy painter during Hollywood's golden age, and she sold many paintings to actors and other movie people.
So when you imagine those fabulous movie star mansions of the 30s and 40s, you should perhaps imagine one of Bokte's bird paintings somewhere in the frame, perhaps hanging by the bed or in the piano room.
After falling completely out of fashion during the era of shocking modernism, Botke is hot again, and several galleries are advertising online for her paintings, which can now fetch up to $90,000 at auction.
In my old hometown, for at least twenty years and the last I knew still continuing today, there's been a single household not far from the downtown area which has kept dozens of peacocks.
They spend most of their time in a high-walled courtyard garden, but sometimes in the mid morning or near sunset, they'll fly up and over the walls and wander out into the streets and sidewalks, perching on the roofs of the little corner stores, rooting for insects in the grassy field across the road, or just preening on whatever branch, sign, fence, or bit of wall is most readily available.
They have a strange, haunting, mournful cry which is at once beautiful and almost otherworldly, and they're such stately creatures that are a joy to just sit and watch. Not the swiftest nor the brightest birds in the world, but steadfastly graceful and impressive no matter how many times you see them. As far as domesticated birds go, they're definitely my favorite.
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