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Louis A. Fuertes

Puerto Rican American Ornithologist & Artist
Louis Agassiz Fuertes, The Osprey, v.1 | Biodiversity Heritage Library
Did you know that… ?
  • … Fuertes’s father was torn between naming his son after Louis Agassiz or Ezra Cornell, but settled on the former due to the famed scientist's recent death?
  • … at the age of 16, Fuertes sent a rare specimen to the Smithsonian?
  • … he became a professor at Cornell, teaching students about the birds found on campus?
  • … he published articles on bird calls and was known to accurately mimic them?
  • … he contributed to over 60 publications and articles, as well as a number of commercial products like calendars?
  • … Fuertes’s father was once the Dean of Civil Engineering at Cornell University?
Ruddy ducks (Erismatura rubida) in water painted by Louis Agassiz Fuertes | Biodiversity Heritage Library
  • 1874 – Born in Ithaca, NY to Spanish-Puerto Rican father and American mother
  • 1888 – Paints a Red crossbill, which is the first recorded instance of his painting a bird from “the flesh”
  • 1891 – Joins the American Ornithologists Union
  • 1892 – Studies a year in a preparatory school in Switzerland
  • 1894 – First meets ornithologist Elliot Coues
  • 1895 – Black-and-white illustrations appear in the Annual Cornellian
  • 1896 – Pen and ink drawings are published in A-birding on a Bronco
  • 1899 – Joins the Harriman Alaska Expedition as one of three artists
  • 1902 – Joins the American Museum Expedition to the Bahamas
  • 1910 – Birds of New York is published, containing over 100 colored plates by Fuertes
  • 1927 – Fuertes dies in a car accident
  • 1930 – Album of Abyssinian Birds and Mammals containing 32 colored plates is posthumously published

Louis Agassiz Fuertes is often regarded as one of the most influential illustrators of American ornithology. Louis was fascinated by birds from a young age, even becoming an Associate Member of the American Ornithologists Union by age 17. It was while on a Cornell University Glee Club trip to Washington, D.C. that Fuertes met with a friend’s uncle, ornithologist Elliot Coues. Coues recognized Fuertes’s potential and provided the advice and material support to encourage his scientific and artistic pursuits. It was soon clear that Fuertes would become a professional painter of birds, and after college he studied under artist-naturalist Abbott H. Thayer. Fuertes’s early works were primarily pen-and-ink work, but over time would transition to full color plates. By the 1910s his work was in high demand and it was nearly impossible to fulfill all requests. Nonetheless, his work would appear in numerous publications, including Birds of New York, and an extended series in National Geographic Magazine. Unfortunately, Fuertes died in a car accident while crossing a train passing in 1927, cutting his career short. His contemporaries described him as a sympathetic, “stimulating scientific associate,” eternally youthful, and a “boundless spirit.”