Featured Artwork

Logo, selections from the permanent collection
Color etching print of Green Jay bird on cactus with capitol building in background
Frank X Tolbert 2, Green Jay, Color etching, 2014

Frank X Tolbert 2, Green Jay, 2014, Color etching

Guest Writer: Dr. Margaret Brown Marsden, Dean of the McCoy College of Science, Mathematics & Engineering and Associate Professor of Biology at MSU Texas

The artist:

This print is by Houston-based artist Frank X Tolbert 2.  Tolbert started his Texas travels early in life, which led to appreciation of the native habitats and species on which he bases much of his work.  This color etching is among the works created for The Texas Bird Project, a series of bird-themed prints, paintings and drawings that show a diverse range of species in a broad range of settings.  His works in the series have been described as having a visual and psychological twist, with the features of these birds rendered with elements of posture, background and color that enhance their physical and emotional impact.  The WFMA acquired this piece through a generous gift from the Museum’s Collectors Circle with special thanks to Jane Carnes and Bev Bolin.

The species:

The species depicted is the Green Jay, Cyanocorax yncas, a member of the family Corvidae that includes other jays as well as crows and ravens.  In terms of habitat, Green Jays are tropical, with a range mostly in Central America (Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico), and only a small portion of its range extends into South Texas.  Birders in the U.S. must travel to the birding hotspots in the Rio Grande valley to see this species and appreciate its differences from the more abundant Blue Jays.

As a family, Corvidae are very intelligent and boisterous, with a diverse omnivorous diet.  The Green Jay is highly talkative and noisy with a highly distinctive blue, green and yellow color mixed with black.  They live and breed in forest and thick scrub, often along rivers and other water flows.

Green jays are cooperative breeders, which means that the prior year’s young frequently remain at their natal nest to assist in raising their siblings.  Assistance includes feeding, defense, and preening, and their help allows parents to raise more young than possible alone.  Only 3% of bird species are cooperative breeders.

The work and its potential meaning:

From a biologist’s point of view this painting is more than just a representation of a Green Jay.  The bird is shown perched on a tropical plant juxtaposed with the capitol building in Austin, the Goddess of Liberty holding her star high above the city.  But there’s one relevant biological detail:   Green Jays are not found in Austin.  So why does this bird loom above our state capital?  Perhaps there is a link to two very divisive political issues:  climate change and border policies. 

Climate models predict that Green Jays will move north in the coming years seeking appropriate habitat and food conditions as their current conditions change.  While people are divided on climate change, seeing how a bird responds (especially one so flashy and easy to identify) may ultimately unite us personally and politically about climate action.

Green Jays occur regularly along the Texas-Mexico border and have the freedom to move across the border, where humans do not.  The 2019 Netflix documentary “Birders”, explored this issue through birdwatchers from the U.S. and Mexico.  In the film, the common delight in bird appreciation starts a challenging conversation about the freedom to migrate and find a better home for one’s family, as well as policies that affect us regardless of our species or national origin.

Ultimately in Tolbert’s work the intersection between the Green Jay and our state government is not fully evident, but we can infer that it must be something important to be part of the composition.  It’s interesting to speculate on what that might be.

Green Jay from the Permanent Collection of the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU, Donated by the 2015 Collectors Circle with special thanks to Jane Carnes and Bev Bolin

Previous Featured Artwork

Luis Jiménez, Border Crossing, 1987, Lithograph

Guest Writer: Dr. Todd Giles

Chuck Close, Portrait/Scribble/Etching, 2000, etching

Guest Writer: Dr. Todd Giles

David Bates, Untitled, 1991, screenprint

Guest Writer: Dr. Todd Giles