A look back at the making of Georgia Birds: Burleigh, Sutton, Stoddard, and Komarek

Nov 14, 2023

Thomas Burleigh’s book Georgia Birds was finally published in 1958; its color plates were painted by his longtime friend George Sutton, who was a renowned ornithologist and gifted artist. The book was dedicated to Herbert Stoddard, who hosted Sutton at his Sherwood home, where Sutton painted most of the birds featured in the book; one species to a plate with the bird painted in its native habitat. Sutton spent the summer and spring of 1952 at Sherwood with Stoddard, who also took him to the Georgia coast near Savannah to paint the shorebirds that were featured in the book. Sutton chose “the most characteristic and distinctive birds found in Georgia” to paint for the color plates. These beautiful watercolors painted for Georgia Birds were the inspiration for a new look at its making, which resulted in a new book.

Herbert Stoddard (left) and George Sutton shown with two paintings for Georgia Birds. At far left, the unfinished painting of the Northern Bobwhite; at right, the painting of the Common Nighthawk. Photo from the Tall Timbers Archives.


In 2017, Tall Timbers Press published the book, George M. Sutton’s Watercolors for Georgia Birds: A New Look. I am the co-author with Robert L. Crawford; it was his idea for the book and he wrote the opening pages, and at the back the acknowledgements, and this special appreciation.

“Historically, bird art from Audubon to Fuertes to Sutton to Peterson has persuaded the public that birds are worth saving. The beauty and surprising variety of birds, as captured by these great artists, have undoubtedly moved many a heart towards appreciation and concern about birds and their threatened environments.”

Crawford also found the additional Sutton watercolor of a young woodcock and bird sketches to illustrate the book. I was the book’s designer and managing editor, and got it published. Sutton would be proud of the reproduction of his watercolors in this book. They are true to his beautiful paintings, unlike the plates in the Georgia Birds book, which were not as vibrant.

As my role at Tall Timbers changed, in addition to being publications coordinator, I became the part-time manager of the archives. The archives at Tall Timbers is a treasure trove of records about the institution’s founders including Henry L. Beadel, Herbert L. Stoddard, Sr., and Edwin V. Komarek (EVK). Stoddard and EVK were great correspondents. Among their correspondence are letters to and from Thomas Burleigh and George Sutton regarding publishing a book on Georgia birds. Also in the archives is correspondence between Sutton and Samuel A. Grimes, whose Respess Grimes Engraving Co. created the engravings for Sutton’s Georgia Birds color plates. Grimes, an important ornithologist and bird photographer in his own right, would later become a Tall Timbers trustee. The archives has acquired his records, which are on the shelves waiting to be processed.

In the opening pages, Crawford writes about Sutton, Burleigh, and Stoddard and their collaboration in getting Georgia Birds published. What Crawford did not know is that EVK was also a facilitator in getting the book to press, as there is a bare mention of him by Burleigh in his acknowledgments. The correspondence I have found in the archives between EVK and the University of Oklahoma Press director Savoie Lottinville; EVK and Sutton; EVK and Eugene Odum, University of Georgia Professor of Zoology; Mrs. Pansy Poe, the chairman of the donor committee; and Sam Grimes, among others, shows otherwise. This correspondence had been stored in various records boxes that had been in offsite storage for many years; it is now assembled in one box about Georgia Birds on a shelf in the archives. Here is a copy of the letter Savoie Lottinville wrote to EVK when Georgia Birds was finally published in 1958. As you see, Burleigh, Stoddard, Sutton and Grimes are copied on the letter.

After the book was published, Sutton’s watercolor paintings for the Georgia Birds’ plates were given to Stoddard by Sutton. EVK was instrumental in having Sutton’s original paintings stored in the library vault at the University of Georgia in 1959. They were stored there until they eventually came back to Sherwood—where they were originally painted. Knowing his father’s wishes, the paintings were gifted to Tall Timbers by the late Herbert L. (Sonny) Stoddard, Jr., and are part of the Stoddard Collection in the archives at Tall Timbers.

Like Georgia Birds, the Tall Timbers’ book George M. Sutton’s Watercolors for Georgia Birds: A New Look could not have been published without benefactors. A generous gift from Cyndi and George Watkins made its publication possible. We are grateful to them and the others who helped with the book. To see the reproduction of Sutton’s beautiful watercolor paintings, you can order a copy of George M. Sutton’s Watercolors for Georgia Birds: A New Look here. It makes a great holiday gift.

About the Author
Rose Rodriguez
Rose Rodriguez is the Publications Coordinator at Tall Timbers. She writes, edits, and designs information for print and digital publications
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