Harry J. Baerg: Wildlife Artist

Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Blvd., Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293
(310) 821-9045
ŠNovember 17, 2010

The "life and times" of Harry J. Baerg, a wildlife artist hailing from Canada, was associated with an American biologist named Ernest Sheldon Booth from 1949 to 1968. In November 1949, Ernest Sheldon Booth, from Walla Walla University, in College Place, Washington, wrote the following kind words about Harry Baerg as follows:

"The excellent illustrations and mammal drawings have been made by Harry Baerg of Vernon, British Columbia. Mr. Baerg has studied mammals for years, and portrays many of them from personal observation. I wish to express my appreciation for his contribution to this book."

This acknowledgement by Ernest Booth for the wildife art of Harry Baerg is for a book on mammals entitled: HOW TO KNOW THE MAMMALS. The book contains well over 200 illustrations of mammals, from the Mole to the the Jaguar. It is noteworthy that these illustrations were completed for this book more than 61 years ago.

Exactly 11 years later to the exact month, in November 1960, and exactly 50 years ago this month of November 2010, in a second edition of HOW TO KNOW THE MAMMALS, Ernest Sheldon Booth from his home in Escondido, California, acknowledged Harry Baerg again for a second time, in the Preface, as a gifted artist and excellent illustrator of wildlife as follows:

"I wish to express my appreciation for the excellent drawings used in my book, and made by my old friend and former student, Harry Baerg. Mr. Baerg has studied mammals for many years himself, and portrays a great many from personal observation."

From these two quotes written exactly 10 years apart by Ernest Sheldon Booth about Harry Baerg we get a glimpse into their friendly relationship together as a scientist and wildife artist-illustrator create books together. Perhaps most interesting is that we learn that Harry Baerg was a former student of Ernest Sheldon Booth. And it is nice to learn that Ernest Booth considered Harry Baerg to be an "old friend."

In addition to that mammals book, HOW TO KNOW THE MAMMALS, they also collaborated together on another book about mammals, this time focused on southern California, covering 11 counties in all. This wonderful natural history guide book was published by the esteemed UC Press, with many full color plates of of paintings of various kinds of wildlife in natural landscape settings of southern California. This second book of mammals was a labor of love and a collaboration which appeared in 1968, approximately 20 years after their first collaboration in 1949. This book appears to be the last collaboration between Ernest Sheldon Booth and Harry Baerg. The title of this excellent natural history guidebook was MAMMALS OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, and the many color plates of mammals in the book, including the mammalian desert landscape on the front cover of the book is magnificent. The desert landscape shows a scene of Pronghorn Antelope, Desert Bighorn, Mule Deer, Joshua Trees, Cottonwoods, several cacti and a desert bunchgrass being browsed by a female Bighorn Sheep, magnificently drawn by Harry Baerg.

In addition to the two mammals books, there were also two books on birds America which were a collaboration between Harry Baerg and Ernest Sheldon Booth in 1950 and 1962 respectively. These two books were BIRDS OF THE WEST (1950) and BIRDS OF THE EAST (1962). The latter book was published privately by Ernest Booth's company, Outdoor Pictures, at Escondido, California. The earlier bird book was published by Stanford University Press. The date of 1950, now 60 years ago, is noteworthy of consideration because this book appeared only 9 years after the Field Guide to Western Birds by Roger Tory Peterson in 1941, so these authors and wildlife artists were contemporaneous bird aficionados and bird artists. In addition, the classic book of birds of the Pacific States by Ralph Hoffmann, originally published in 1927 to high acclaim, was reprinted in the early 1950s during this same time period of post-World War II, and a renewed interest in birdwatching and birding in the United States. In fact, Ernest Booth profusely praised Ralph Hoffmann's book, BIRDS OF THE PACIFIC STATES. Interestingly, the illustrator of the Ralph Hoffmann's book, was also a Canadian wildlife artist from British Columbia, whose name was Major Allan Brooks.

After a sincere collaboration on several books between Ernest Booth and Harry Baerg over a 20 year period (1949-1968), Harry Baerg began in earnest to write his own educational books on nature, which were graced with his own wildlife and wildflower art. Thus far, I have tallied 14 books by Harry Baerg in chronological order by date of publication:

1955: How To Know Western Trees;
1964: Benny the Beaver;
1971: Molly Cottontail and Other Wildlife Picture Stories;
1972: Creation and Catastrophe;
1976: Bucky the Jack Rabbit;
1980: Prairie Boy;
1983: Birds That Can't Fly;
1988: Chipmunk Willie;
1989: Bible Plants and Animals;
1990: Bible Plants;
1990: Bible Plants and Animals;
1994: Forest Friends;
1994: Common American Birds;
1995: Humpy the Moose, Chipmunk Willie; Benny the Beaver, (Forest Friends, Set of 3 Forest Friends)

One of these books, Prairie Boy, provides us a glimpse into the childhood of Harry Baerg. In that book, Harry Baerg describes that he grew up on the Canadian prairies. From the quote above by Ernest Booth, we learned that Harry Baerg was from Vernon in eastern British Columbia, at the northwestern edge of the prairies near the intersection and interface with the northwestern forests of Canada. The actual distance from British Columbia to Walla Walla University in eastern Washington is not all that far. And this explains the ability of Harry Baerg and Ernest Booth to visit each other easily as they collaborated on books together. And this close distance also explains the ability of Harry Baerg to take classes biology at Walla Walla College from his Professor Ernest Booth, and then to develop a lifelong friendship and 20 year collaboration.

In closing, I would like to share with those people that care about wildlife, and in particular, terrestial mammals, from the mole to the coyote, and including squirrels, rabbits, kangaroo rats, as well as marine mammals, including seals, whales, and the sea otter, that several books by Harry Baerg and Ernest Sheldon Booth are on loan to the library and archives of the Ballona Institute and Wetlands Defense Fund. These books are available for researchers and educators and to peruse by the interested public by appointment. I hope especially that UC Press decides to do a second edition of MAMMALS OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, as this small natural history field guide is very helpful for the public to be able to learn the mammals of the coast, mountains, valleys, and desert, and heavily urbanized Los Angeles County, Orange County, and San Diego County. There is a unique mammal fauna here, which still supports wild nature and a dynamic urban ecology interface with natural landscapes and wildness within the realm of roughly 100 cities in Los Angeles County alone.

Finally, did Harry Baerg believe in sustainability? I feel confident that Harry Baerg was concerned with conservation of our earth. The values that Harry Baerg felt toward nature and wildlife and society fits the model of Ernest Callenbach in his book called ECOLOGY. And I can see clearly now that Harry Baerg supported the wonderful science of ecology and natural history, including sustainability and ecosystems of planet Earth. We desperately need natural history field guides to wildlife and wildflowers for urban area in order for people to know the truth and genuine nature of cities and how this relates to sustainability of our cities and counties in southern California.