Rex, Birds and Viola

by Michael Banks, Friends of the Neches River and Betty Marcontell, Heritage Center of Cherokee County Museum

Most associate the name Audubon with bird artwork. Did you know Rex Brasher was a rival to John James Audubon and more productive?

While both Audubon and Brasher used the medium of watercolor, some critics make the point that Brash-er’s work was better from using live models as Audubon used stuffed dead models. Both painters placed their subjects in natural habitats. Audubon created paintings of 489 species of birds. Rex Brasher reached his goal of painting every bird in North America – 875 watercolor paintings of 1200 species and subspe-cies. For his book, Birds and Trees of North America, and to save money, Brasher printed black and white lithographs and repainted them in color.
Using this technique, he produced 75 twelve-volume sets of his book. There is no other American bird illustrator who has come close to Brasher’s monumental achievement and he ranks as not only one of the most gifted, but also one of the most underappreciated of all the great bird artists.

John Audubon died in 1851 and Rex Brasher was born in 1869. Rex Brasher’s father, Philip, was also an ornithologist (studier of birds) during the era of Audubon. Philip Brasher made an appointment to meet with Audubon to discuss birds. When he arrived for the appointment Audubon would not see him – Philip was snubbed by Audubon.

Rex Brasher used his father’s knowledge of birds and his father’s snub by Audubon as a motivation to paint all the birds of North America and do it better than Audubon which became Brasher’s life work.

Enter the local connection of Rusk, with Rex Brasher – Viola Gregg Dickinson. Ms. Dickinson was born in Rusk in 1881 and never married. In 1932, her travels took her to Washington D.C. where she met Rex Brasher and worked with him promoting his paintings.

At some time during their friendship, Rex Brasher gave Viola Dickinson a collection of original litho-graphic paintings. Seven paintings from her collection were donated by her family in 1973 to the Sin-gletary Memorial Library in Rusk. These paintings were recently moved to the Heritage Center of Chero-kee County Museum and are now on display. In this collection is an original self-portrait by Rex Brasher personally dedicated to Viola Dickinson with a personal poem.

These archives are a must-come-see for all at the Heritage Center of Cherokee County Museum in Rusk, Texas. One may decide for yourself the original quality of Brasher’s work to Audubon’s work. Opening day for a special exhibit of Rex Brasher's work is scheduled on Saturday, Sept. 25, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Heritage Center of Cherokee County Museum, 208 S. Henderson St., Rusk, Texas.