Exhibit honors man who created field guide concept

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Roger Tory Peterson died July 28, 1996 at the age of 87. On Aug. 28, the world will celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth.

The spotlight will be focused on Jamestown, N.Y., Peterson’s birthplace and home to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute.

In a recent phone conversation, Jim Berry, president of RTPI, explained that a centennial celebration began months ago and will continue for months to come. Details are available at www.rtpi.org.

Grand celebration

Berry has high hopes for the celebration.

“The Roger Tory Peterson Centennial Exhibit: Original Paintings by the Master Nature Artist runs June 22 to Oct. 15 and is a rare opportunity for the public to see some of Roger’s original artwork,” he said.

“Though the show runs through Oct. 15, we invite people to visit over Labor Day weekend for the Centennial Kick-off and Open House on Aug. 30 and 31.”

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History Headquarters Building will be free and open to the public. Guided nature walks, exhibit tours, and behind-the-scenes tours of the archives will be conducted throughout the day.

Refreshments and workshops will also be available for all visitors.

The facility was built, in part, to house the lifetime body of work of this great naturalist. The primary objective of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute is to promote nature study in the classroom.
Pioneer. As the creator of the “field guide” concept, Peterson revolutionized nature study. In 1934, at the age of 26, Peterson published A Field Guide to Birds for Houghton Mifflin.

According to the New York Times, Houghton Mifflin printed only 2,000 copies and asked Peterson to forego royalties on the first 1,000 books. That first printing sold out in two weeks.

Since then, subsequent editions of his bird guides have sold more than 8 million copies. And the Peterson Field Guide Series, numbering dozens of titles covering virtually every realm of natural history, revolutionized nature study for amateurs.

Naming names

In essence, Peterson invented the modern field guide. Naming plants and animals is the first step in conservation; it’s difficult to generate concern for nameless creatures. Peterson’s field guides put names on everything from birds, mammals and wildflowers to mushrooms, fish and reptiles.

They have done more to promote “biodiversity” than all the books, magazines and television shows ever produced for that purpose.

Peterson realized the value of field identification long before anyone else. Thanks to his vivid artwork and his straightforward writing style, Peterson’s books have coaxed millions of nature watchers into the field to identify the creatures that inhabit the world around us.

Book release

As part of the celebration of Peterson’s 100th birthday, Houghton Mifflin is publishing the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America ($26) on Aug. 28. For the first time, a single volume covers the birds of eastern and western North America.

This new book uses the expertise of a variety of expert birders including Michael DiGiorgio, Jeffrey Gordon, Paul Lehman, Michael O’Brien, Larry Rosche, and Bill Thompson III.

Updates in this new edition include 40 new Peterson paintings that didn’t make it into previous editions, all new range maps that reflect current distribution data, revised text for all species accounts, digital enhancements of Peterson’s original artwork, and three hours of video podcasts that focus on common species, comparisons of groups of similar species, and birding tips.

This scope of this revision is impressive, and I know I’ll refer to it on a regular basis.

Worth reading

For those who want to know more about Peterson, the man, I recommend Birdwatcher: the Life of Roger Tory Peterson by Elizabeth Rosenthal (2008, $29.95, Lyons Press, www.petersonbird.com ).
It’s a fascinating biography filled with insights and anecdotes from more than 100 people who knew Peterson in life.

“I began my research three years ago at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute,” Rosenthal told me, “and discovered that there was a lot more about this guy I wanted to know.”

So she interviewed people whose ages spanned from their 40s to 90s. Some of their recollections reach back to the 1930s. The result is a compelling read filled with stories told by the people who knew Peterson best.

(Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or via e-mail my web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com.)

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

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