That Martha’s Kept Me Busy

Kate/ September 19, 2014/ birds, blog

It’s bad form to go months without blogging. My only excuse is that I’ve been working hard on something greater. I knew that if I wandered off-course to talk about what I was doing, then I would no longer be doing it. I’d be digressing. As I am now. No time for that. No time!

I’m happy to report that I’ve officially finished my dummy for my picture book about the Passenger Pigeon. It’s in the hands of an editor who asked to see it. A solicited submission. I can’t even describe what a humongous deal this is for me. Up to this point I’ve only ever submitted illustration samples and portfolios—never with my own writing. I have long suffered an impostor complex when it comes to adding “author” to my illustrator name (a #TBT post for another time). Let’s just say that my inner poopynannyhead of a critic has been banished to sulk in the corner.

Such good things come from spending time at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA.

This time last year I spent a long weekend in a crash course led by the godfather of aspiring children’s authors, Harold Underdown. It was the first time I brought all my scraps and bits and pieces about Passenger Pigeons together, and laid them on a table for feedback. I came away from the workshop feeling nurtured, like someone important who knew better than most people actually believed in me. It gave me courage to take bigger baby steps in my writing. You might say I hatched from my protective shell that weekend.

Then, I applied for the Highlights Foundation Writing About Nature Retreat, to be held in May 2014. I was accepted, I attended, and gobbled up seeds of truth and wisdom like a hungry little squab. I grew quickly with the support of my own flock.

A few weeks later, I received a call from Kent Brown, inviting me to attend Chautauqua East in June. Well now, I wasn’t prepared for that! That’s like, one of those serious conferences for those really serious writers who have written and published a hundred thousand things, right? So I thought until I was invited. Honored, I packed my bags again and this time spent a glorious week in the barn in the field by the woodland stream. I wish I could impart just how much more knowledge, support, encouragement, confidence, belonging, and nurturing flowed through me during this magical, week-long adventure. In keeping with the bird analogy, here I fledged.

Fledgeling birds step out of the nest partially feathered, then flutter clumsily to a branch or lower elevation, while receiving continued meal deliveries and guidance from their parents. So it has been for me. I have private Facebook groups with my fellow attendees and faculty from each of these retreats where we keep track of each other, deliver morsels of encouragement, and celebrate each other’s baby giant steps. If I hadn’t experienced such love and validation from the people of the Highlights Foundation, I would likely still be sitting on this pigeon book idea, arguing with my inner poopynannyhead about my right to write it. Instead, I’ve taken my first flight into children’s publishing. I can’t wait to share what happens next.

Pigeon Art is Everywhere

Because I’m an author AND illustrator (yeah, that’s right!), I’ve been painting a lot of Passenger Pigeons. Almost every bird of mine has made it into the public eye at this point. In the May/June issue of Birding magazine, my Passenger Pigeon studies accompany an article by Joel Greenberg, author of A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, co-writer of the new documentary From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, and founder of Project Passenger Pigeon. Joel connected me with the editor of Birding, as well as the curator of collections at the Woodson Art Museum, and the good folks at the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove. The Woodson took two of my earlier pigeon studies for inclusion in a special exhibit, titled: Legacy Lost and Saved: Extinct and Endangered Birds of North America, which opened the same day as their annual “Birds in Art” exhibit. I think the super-coolest part about this exhibit is that my paintings will hang in the same room as Ivory-Billed Woodpecker originals by the late, great Don Richard Eckelberry. I mean, for real. And they’ll hang there through July 2015.


The Plight of the Passenger Pigeon at the John James Audubon Center. Photo ©2014 Stephen Kacir.

My group exhibit at the John James Audubon house, The Plight of the Passenger Pigeon, opened this weekend on the second floor of John James’ childhood home in Audubon, PA. How about that. Five of my Passenger Pigeon-inspired originals share the room with bird art by other local artists and illustrators, including Michael Adams, Ponder Goembel, Mallary Johnson, Brigida Michopulos, and Lisa Lapoint Roese. There’s also a Passenger Pigeon specimen stuffed by J.J. himself. The show hangs through November 15, 2014.

Never before has my art enjoyed such bird spirited company. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around it.

I sincerely hope that with all these events, and some yet-to-be-announced events to come, I’ll give Martha and her flock of Passenger Pigeons some of the lost attention and remembrance they deserve.

Now if you’ll please excuse me, there’s a Carolina Parakeet named Incas tapping at my window sill.

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About Kate

Kate Garchinsky illustrates and writes children’s books and educational media in her studio in the woodlands near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her debut picture book, The Secret Life of the Red Fox, written by acclaimed wildlife author, Laurence Pringle, received a starred review from School Library Journal. Kate Garchinsky received a grant from the Eckelberry Fellowship at the Academy of Natural Sciences, where she has been researching and illustrating extinction stories about North American birds such as the Passenger Pigeon and the Carolina Parakeet. Prior to creating children’s books, Kate designed lots of fun things like toys, birdbaths and trail maps. She lives with her husband Brian, Julia and Spencer the cats, and her one-eyed beagle, Maggie May. Kate recently signed on to illustrate two more “Secret Life” narrative non-fiction picture books with Boyds Mills Press—The Secret Life the Little Brown Bat (2018) and The Secret Life of the Skunk (2019). While drawing foxes and bats, Kate also began work on Belle’s Journey, a middle-grade non-fiction chapter book by ornithologist and osprey expert, Rob Bierregaard (Charlesbridge 2018). Get to know more about Kate Garchinsky at http://KateGarchinsky.com (aka PenguinArt.com).