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Paintings, photos and taxidermied birds come together at UM’s Performing Arts Radio/Television building’s featured art exhibition, Avis Marvelous, which portrays the intimate life of birds through art in the 19th century. 

UM’s Museum of Art and Culture is set up to help artist Lee Silliman demonstrate avian life in the 19th century with prints from Silliman’s collection mixed with biological specimens from UM’s Zoological Museum.

“Avis Marvelous presents the ways artists and scientists analyzed, documented and celebrated avian life in the 19th century,” museum director H. Rafael Chacón said. “It explores the various strategies employed by artists and scholars of the natural sciences.” 

The displays from both the museum and Silliman’s collection are separated into four sections in the exhibition based on what type of bird is featured.

“The show is divided into sections that address nesting, woodland birds, water and desert birds and raptors,” Chacón said.

The specimens from the Phillip Wright Zoological Museum were collected by scientists and amateurs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Chacón hopes this exhibition will give the public an opportunity to see science and art come together and display the uniqueness of birds in an easy to understand way. 

Chacón said by using art as the medium to display these birds, it is a more sustainable way to represent birds in the “natural” setting rather than harvesting birds, eggs and nests for research. 

Despite being unsustainable, the study of birds is still said to have been one of the most popular areas of research in the 19th century, as it had a large following. This still holds true today, Chacón said.

“Missoula is a community that takes great interest in bird life and that is also true across the nation,” Chacón said. 

This exhibition is an opportunity for bird lovers and art lovers to come together and enjoy avian life and artwork from a well-known artist and photographer.

“I enjoy the rapport between the artist and scientist, particularly as they both attempt to give the viewer a sense of the creature in its own environment,” Chacón said.

Much of Silliman’s artwork covering the topic of western wildlife has been displayed in exhibitions like Avis Marvelous in museums across six different western states. 

“Lee Silliman is an avid collector of historic prints about the American West,” Chacón said. “He curated exhibitions from his own collections.” 

“Avis Marvelous: Ornithology in 19th Century Art and Science” opens on Friday, Sept. 24, and runs through Jan. 8, 2022, in the Paxson Gallery of UM’s Performing Arts and Radio/Television Center.