Florence Mary Bird (born January 15, 1930, Cleveland, Ohio) is an American-born artist and sculptor. Bird specializes in creating life-size bronze statues cast from original works she creates first in maquette and ultimately in bronze cast of sizes ranging from table-top works through life-size and larger-than-life size pieces. Bird is best known for her work as the resident sculptor for the Mississippi River Sculpture Park located on St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Five of her life-size bronze historical figures (Native American Warrior Chief Black Hawk, Dr. William Beaumont and son, Israel, Victorian Lady, Julian Coryer Voyageur, and Emma Big Bear) are presently installed in the city park. Plans call for a total of 26 life-size bronze historical figures in this city park, illustrating the nearly 12,000 years of history at this confluence region where the Wisconsin River meets the Mississippi River.
Family and personal life
Bird’s mother, Marjorie Bird (maiden name, Marjorie Fredericka Brown), studied and sang opera and then became a nurse before getting married and raising a family. One of her paternal ancestors, Valentine Brown, fought in the American Revolution. Marjorie’s mother was Jessie Wilcox, a descendant of William Wilcoxson, who had arrived from England on the ship Planter in April 1635. His son, Samuel Wilcoxson, served as a deputy in the General Assembly from 1644 to 1701 and from 1711 to 1712. Samuel's son, Job Wilcox (who had shortened his surname), fought in the army during the last three years of the American Revolution.
Bird’s father, Walter Bayha Bird, was a descendant of Colonel Abraham Bird (then spelled Byrd), who was a delegate in the Fifth Virginia Convention in 1776, when the Virginia Declaration of Rights was created and ratified. He held various offices of military command during the Revolutionary War. Five other Bird ancestors also served in the Revolutionary War.
Bird’s father’s family settled in Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and her mother’s family settled in Spring Green (Wisconsin), both in Wisconsin.
Bird grew up in Cleveland Heights, and moved to Chesterland when she was 8 years old. Her father was a teacher and coach at Cleveland Heights High School and was a part-time artist. Her mother was a retired opera singer and nurse. As a child Bird was taken to classical music concerts at the Cleveland Orchestra and to exhibitions at the Cleveland Art Museum. At age 9, she was taught to sketch by the artist, Fay Kiehel, who took her own children, along with Bird, outdoors to draw trees and flowers.
Bird has inherited a deep interest in United States history which eventually led to her major work as sculptor for The Mississippi River Sculpture Park and The Five First Ladies of the United States. Bird was married three times and has three children, two grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Bird currently lives in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
After graduating from Cleveland Heights High School in 1947, Bird moved to Colorado to attend Denver University for two years as an art major. She married and spent some years with her first husband and raising her family. After the death of her husband she moved to California to continue her education at California College of the Arts (formerly California College of Arts and Crafts) in Oakland, California, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis on figure sculpture and metal techniques. In 1967 she attended a post graduate course called “Art and Ecology”, a summer course, which took place in a campground in Northern California, near Mount Lassen. During the summer workshop, the students, guided by ecologist Paul Shepard (author of Man in the Landscape: a Historic View of the Esthetics of Nature), went to different environments--a forest, an ice cave, a local farm and a mountain lake--to learn about the ecological processes taking place on site. In the afternoons the students were free to do their artistic interpretations of that experience under the direction of art professor Ronald Dahl. Talk around the campfire centered around critiques of the artwork. This experience was profound for Bird, building on her appreciation for the great natural outdoors and love of the land.
She then went on to San Diego State University where she completed her Master of Arts degree, majoring in drawing and sculpture with an emphasis on figure drawing and sculpture based on the process of growth of natural things. Her study of European Cathedral sculpture influenced her interest in mythology. One of her favorite sculptors is the English sculptor, Henry Moore emphasizing natural forms and the human body. Italian renaissance artist Michael Angelo remains her favorite sculptor. She also studied Joseph Campbell’s work on mythology and Frank Waters' books about the Hopi Indians. She has read extensively about art history and the relationship between science and the arts.
Bird returned to California College of the Arts to teach basic 2D and 3D design, figure drawing, jewelry techniques, and mask making. During her teaching career she composed sculptures which explored her personal mythology using herself as a model. (see .pdf UNTITLED from July 26, 2017 email for photos)
Bird's first formal lessons, at age 11, were at the Cleveland Museum of Art where she learned to model clay. She went on to study and teach and widely exhibit her art work. Bird holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from California College of the Arts, and a Master of Arts degree from San Diego State University. She returned to teach art for several years at California College of the Arts, and has taught art to private students of all ages.
Her early sculpture, figurative and mythological, was widely exhibited in California. In 1990 she collaborated with the artist Tommy Moller to do the 13-foot tall ferro-concrete sculpture of the “Maidu Family” for the city of Roseville Community Center in Roseville, California. This sculpture was subsequently cast in bronze in 2002 and is located outside the front entrance to the Roseville Community Center.
After several years tending to personal and family business Bird moved back to Wisconsin, home of her family roots. As she became oriented to the scenery and history of this state, she was inspired to paint landscapes and riverscapes of the Wisconsin River and the confluence with the Mississippi River. She became acquainted with the deep and significant history and prehistory of the area including the ancient Indian mounds, 17th century fur trade voyageurs, modern day Native American Tribes, and immigrants who settled here from all over the world. One day, as she stood by the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin she wondered “Who stood here before me?” That question led to stories and research, and eventually inspired Bird to make clay maquettes of some of the historical characters. She envisioned an historical sculpture park which would include life size bronze sculptures of some of the people and different cultures who had actually been to this confluence region. After contacting many residents and City of Prairie du Chien and arranging for a not-for-profit organization and a place on St. Feriole Island (a large island attached to the city with a short bridge over the slough) to establish a sculpture park, Bird received financial support from residents Patrick and Janet Leamy and the Mississippi River Sculpture Park became a reality with a ground breaking ceremony on May 5, 2005. Since that time, five life-size bronze sculptures have been installed, Black Hawk, Dr Beaumont and son Israel, Victorian Lady, Julian Coryer Voyageur, and Emma Big Bear. The next sculpture pending is Aunt Marianne LaBuche, to be installed in 2017. There are a total of 26 life size sculptures planned for this historical monument. This is a city park open to the public year-round. Following are pictures of the sculptures installed in the Mississippi River Sculpture Park as of August, 2017:
Additionally, the clay maquettes for her project depicting the five “First Ladies” of the United States, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Elizabeth Monroe and Louisa Adams are in her studio.
Bird’s work is classical in style showing an intuitive passion for personal individual portraits. (florencebird.com)
(see exhibition record below)
Bird received a BA from California College of Arts & Crafts in 1964 in sculpture and an MA from San Diego State University in 1967 in sculpture & drawing.
From 1968 to 1974 Bird was a full-time assistant professor at California College of the Arts, after which she was a part-time assistant professor there until 1987.
Works in progress
Bird has been working on a collection of the first five First Ladies of the United States (Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, Elizabeth Monroe and Louisa Adams. (See Photo collage of the Maquettes for each First Lady below).
- Short Of Bringing Aunt Marianne Sculpture to PdC Park
- Volunteers Raising Money For PDC Sculpture Park
- Mississippi River Sculpture Park
- Guttenberg Press, Fund-raising for Sculpture Park
- Nina and Judith Dousman
- About The Artist
- Twenty-Five Potential Statues For Mississippi Sculpture Park
- The Fire Circle
- Black Hawk - The Statue
- Dr. William Beaumont and Son Israel
- Victorian Lady
- Emma Big Bear
- Aunt Marianne Labuche
- Crown Jewel - The Mississippi River Sculpture Park
- Marianne Lebuche
- Meet The Sculpture - Florence Bird
- Sculptor's Corner
- Guttenurg Press Display Showcases 25 Potential Statues Intended For Mississippi River Sculpture Park
- Images Emma Big Bear Statue
- Images Mississippi River Sculpture Park>
- Images Mississippi River Sculpture Park
- Mississippi River Sculpture Park
- National Geographic MSRP
- Wisconsin Historical Markers
- Kicktrag MRSP
- Profile Florence Bird - Inte4rnational Sculpture Center
- Florence Bird, Sculpture Magazine Images
- Full-Circle Paver, Florence Bird, Master Sculptor
- Three Horses Review by John Heuser
- Sculptor's Corner, March 16 2016