Published on December 12, 2022

MABA Receives Nuttal Ornithological Club Grant to Digitize William Brewster Photographic Images

Pine Knoll southwest of Davis Hill, Concord, Massachusetts, April 30, 1897. Mass Audubon Collection.

Pine Knoll southwest of Davis Hill, Concord, Massachusetts,
April 30, 1897. Mass Audubon Collection.

MABA has received a special grant from the Nuttall Ornithological Club (NOC) to digitize a collection of photographic images taken in the late 1880’s through early 1990’s by William Brewster, who served as Mass Audubon’s first president from 1896 through 1913. The digital images will then be available for public access online.

William Brewster was a renowned American ornithologist and early conservationist, founder of the NOC and of the American Ornithologists’ Union, and the first curator of ornithology at Harvard University. He was an avid photographer, and Mass Audubon’s collection at the Museum of American Bird Art consists of 2,417 glass plate negatives and 180 photographic prints. The Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard also holds a collection of his photographs, which are now available on Harvard’s HOLLIS website. When this new project is complete, all the Brewster images will be readily available to the public, many to be seen for the first time.

William Brewster’s work was supported by his assistant, Robert Gilbert. As a Black man, Gilbert’s participation in the field of ornithology was unusual for the time, and the American Ornithologists’ Union recognized his accomplishments by making him an Associate.

The images in Mass Audubon’s collection mainly depict the locations where Brewster spent most of his time observing and documenting birds: Cambridge, Massachusetts where he lived; Lake Umbagog on the northern New Hampshire and Maine border, which he visited for 38 years; and Concord, Massachusetts where he owned a 300-acre property from 1890 until his death in 1919. In 2018 Nancy Beeuwkes donated 130 acres that were once part of Brewster’s Concord property to Mass Audubon as the Brewster’s Woods Wildlife Sanctuary, and trails there are now open to the public.