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The Art of Animals comes to Back Bay

On Thursday, January 16th, 2020, “Once a Kingdom: Animal Portraits from D. R. Wakefield and Zoo New England” will transform Bromer Gallery into a temple of nature, a celebration of existence, and a place of reckoning for the faces of creatures lost and found on a changing planet. The exhibit pairs Wakefield’s sublime, evocative engravings and books on extinct and endangered mammals with professional photographs of some of Zoo New England’s most vibrant animals, from lemurs to jaguars to flamingos, as well as original paintings from the Zoo’s very own gorillas. Thoughtfully curated as a display of mixed media, “Once a Kingdom” incites wonder at the natural world and passion for its conservation.

An important contributor to the world of book arts, D. R. Wakefield has grasped history and natural history within the lines of his engravings. In the eighties, his passion for technical challenges dovetailed with his interest in animals, resulting in a short series of books on angling. Over the last three decades, Wakefield’s drive for innovation and experimentation continued to grow, and after a period of focus on human history, his most recent work has returned to the vital beauty of animals. This exhibit will highlight An Alphabet of Endangered Mammals, An Alphabet of Extinct Mammals, and Going, Some Thoughts on the Destiny of the Rhinoceros as an Icon of Natural History. Both as bound volumes and as prints, species like the Falklands Islands Dog, the Asian Lion, and the Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse look out with individualistic nobility and haunting grace over a world they know but that knows them hardly at all.

With Zoo New England as the second exhibitor, “Once a Kingdom” grounds Wakefield’s lore-like perspectives with the weight of presence. The Zoo strives to emphasize and enrich animals as individuals with unique personalities and stories. Sharp photographs capture the twinkling eyes of a red panda, the outstretched neck of a Masai giraffe, the elaborate coiffure of a cotton-top tamarin, and bold profile of a Peregrine falcon. Yet as close as these photographs make the audience feel, there is nothing closer than the high point of the Zoo’s collection: paintings completed by gorillas Little Joe and Okie (Okie now resides at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans). Each has their own style, whether with careful pointillist finger-painting or great Pollock-like splatters. These artistic expressions invite questions of “who” rather than “what”, and of character rather than data.

The books, individual prints, paintings, and photographs will be on display and available for purchase at Bromer Gallery, and the proceeds from the sales of the latter two will benefit Zoo New England. “Once a Kingdom: Animal Portraits from D. R. Wakefield and Zoo New England” will be on exhibit at Bromer Gallery, 607 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116, from January 16th to April 17th, 2020. Visit for more information.