Some months ago I reviewed “The Unfeathered Bird,” a book by writer and artist Katrina van Grouw. She had taken examples from several bird families, her drawings stripping the birds down to their bones. She pictured them in natural actions in natural locations, but without feathers. It was and is a marvelous book, a completely different look at birds. That book was published in 2013.
Much more recently, 2018, her publisher, Princeton University Press, issued another most revealing book by van Grouw: “Unnatural Selection.” Here she examines the way man has modified the natural selection first described by Charles Darwin.
Birds again are her chosen examples. She examines and explains form and function, including color variations. Much of the information she shares comes from work with birds whose wide variety of shapes and colors are familiar to us — pigeons and chickens.
I’m writing this one day after a visit to this year’s (2019) Minnesota State Fair. A walk through the poultry building brings this book vividly to life. Careful (or, perhaps, casual) selection and cross breeding has produced chickens and pigeons of almost any shape and color.
How and why this happens, driven by our quest for novelty often expressed in competition (the fair), is explained in text as revealing as her drawings.
Nature creates as need dictates. Man creates as he desires. Ms. van Grouw describes, in her words, “plastic animals.” They are both beautiful and grotesque, as she shows us.
Her books are guides to natural worlds otherwise unseen.
“Unnatural Selection,” Katrina van Grouw, Princeton University Press, hard cover, 281 pages, extremely well illustrated, $45.