Roger Tory Peterson
Not only did Roger Tory Peterson teach us to appreciate birds, his greatest love, but he also taught us the value of just about all living creatures. "Through the magic of The Peterson Field Guide Series, which grew to more than 30 volumes under his editorship, we became watchers--and, more importantly, protectors--of almost every form of life on our planet," says New York writer Les Line, a long-time friend of Peterson. The guides created a powerful constituency not only for woodpeckers and warblers but also for butterflies and beetles, tree frogs and turtles, shiners and sea anemones, oaks and orchids.
The Peterson era began in 1934 with A Field Guide to the Birds. Illustrated with Peterson drawings and billed on the dust jacket as "a bird book on a new plan" (the plan being the use of arrows on the drawings to call attention to a species' distinguishing characteristics), the first edition, which covered birds east of the Rocky Mountains, sold out in a couple of weeks. Subsequent revisions by Peterson, together with a later guide to western birds, have sold millions of copies.
In 1980, an all-new fourth edition of the flagship eastern guide was published. It was the book, he said at the time, by which he wanted to be remembered. Yet in 1994, he was busy painting new plates for another revision, saying, "Laurels are something you have to defend."
The field guides were only the best known of Peterson's achievements; among other things, he served as art director of NWF's conservation stamp program. Most of all, Peterson wanted to be appreciated as a fine artist. He produced a number of stunning interpretative paintings.
It is his lasting legacy to conservation that Peterson transformed us into a world of watchers.
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