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August 23, 2023

New Fishtown mural will highlight Philadelphia's birds

The artwork — from the Academy of Natural Sciences and renowned science illustrator Jane Kim — comes to Frankford Avenue next spring

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jane kim mural arts Provided Image/Academy of Natural Sciences

A new Fishtown mural commissioned by the Academy of Natural Sciences will spotlight various bird species present in Philadelphia. Above, artist Jane Kim drafts a painting of the glossy ibis in the museum's studio.

A new mural is in the works in Fishtown, and it will celebrate Philadelphia's birds (not the Eagles) and other wildlife native to the region.

As part of the ongoing "Illuminating Birds" exhibit, which spotlights avian illustration, Drexel University's Academy of Natural Sciences has tapped artist and scientific illustrator Jane Kim to paint the upcoming mural at 2331 Frankford Ave. The piece, which the Academy says will highlight "Philadelphia's incredible variety of birds and their fascinating connections to local ecologies, watersheds, and communities," will be installed in collaboration with the public art nonprofit Mural Arts Philadelphia.

Kim spent last week in Philadelphia as the Academy's Avian Artist-in-Residence, researching local birds, working with the institution's scientists, drafting the mural and leading painting workshops. She has since returned to her California studio to create the final mural design, which will be unveiled in October during Mural Arts Month festivities. Kim will return to Philly next spring to install the mural.

"It was a really lovely situation where the Academy reached out to us with this idea," Kim said. "And of course, it was so right in line with what we do and my practice as an artist, so it was a dream residency to be asked to participate in."

Kim studied printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design before earning a master's certificate in science illustration at California State University, Monterey Bay. She has installed large-scale artworks across the country, including the "Wall of Birds" at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

During her time in Philly, Kim worked in the art studio at the Academy's Illuminating Birds exhibit, sketching local birds and plants she saw or learned about from the Academy's experts. 

Last Wednesday, Kim joined a museum ornithologist on a birding trip to Philadelphia's John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. They observed 37 bird species, including a Canada goose, mallard, osprey, bald eagle and a glossy ibis. Kim plans to include many, if not all, of these birds in the mural.

Kim is particularly interested in depicting the Nuttalls mudflower, a tiny plant with white flowers that was native to Pennsylvania but is now believed to be extinct. Given Fishtown's proximity to the Delaware River, she also hopes to include a nod to the fishing industry. 

"All of this is to hopefully shed some light on the local environment, and the importance of maintaining curiosity and the importance of observation," Kim said. "For everyone, citizen science is so incredibly meaningful; (it is) important to gather data for scientists, but also just to make the world around you so much more exciting. When you are aware of what's around you, there's so many more things to pay attention to and become excited about that removes you from screens or from things that are pulling inward. Being aware of your environment pulls you back outward. I'm hoping that this mural will inspire some of those same feelings and sentiments."

While Kim is experienced in public art, the method of mural installation she will use in Philadelphia is new to her. Rather than painting the mural directly onto the wall, Kim will paint the mural onto a parachute cloth, a nonwoven fabric, in her California studio. She will take the cloth to Philadelphia for it be adhered to the wall.

"With this process, it allows ... flexibility for an artist to work in their studio and to be able to paint in ways that might not be conducive for outdoor painting, when you have to do it in a very short amount of time," Kim said. "So this is exciting."

The Illuminating Birds exhibit — which houses ornithology-related artwork, rare books and artifacts from the museum's vast bird collections — will be at the Academy of Natural Sciences (1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy) through Sunday, Oct. 15. Tickets can be purchased online.

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