Featured Artist: Rachel Coyne

Rachel Coyne 

Rachel Coyne is a writer and painter from rural Minnesota. Her books include Whiskey Heart, The Patron Saint of Lost Comfort Lake and the Antigone Ravynn Chronicles.

Artist’s Statement

As a bird loving child, I always thought of Audubon as a Huck Finn like character—a uniquely American creation determined to wander, to see and paint this beautiful “new” world. In fact, Audubon’s family wealth came from slave holding, namely at a large sugar plantation in Haiti. Slave holding gave him the leisure hours to develop his craft. He painted birds on his own and his friend’s plantations. Throughout his life he was both a slave owner and a slave trader.

Audubon was famous for posing his birds in attitudes of great energy, often with their young, nests and eggs. For this reason, Audubon’s homage to mockingbirds is one of his most beloved works. Mockingbirds are renowned for being fiercely protective of their nests and young. In his autobiographical work “Ornithological Biographies” Audubon describes finding a family of escaped enslaved humans living deep in the woods while birding. They fed him and let him share their fire. They told him they’d run away because their children were being sold off and separated from them. In the morning, he turned them in to their white enslavers.

In his writings, Audubon was a passionate defender of slavery.  He was not merely “a man of his time”—he was a voice of his time. His work gave him an audience with kings, rich patrons on both sides of the Atlantic, reporters, intellectuals and academics—and he used that voice to defend slavery to the day of his death.