Reimagining the Eastern Bluebird

Dianne Bennett drops her bucolic bluebirds into an environment humming with human activity.

Artist Dianne Bennett grew up amid the urban sprawl of California's San Fernando Valley. My experience was seeing every bit of open space developed, she says. Her work has often focused on animals in bucolic settings but is evolving with growing environmental concerns. Now, she says, it's almost like humanity's starting to take over the painting.

The human footprint is obvious in her depiction of Audubon's male Eastern Bluebird, which she rendered in oil paint on a salvaged road construction sign. It soars across smattered squares and triangles that signify buildings. The green patches symbolize dwindling natural areas, while milky swirls evoke the cosmos. The outlook isn't all bad: A small box in the right corner represents abodes people build to help these birds thrive.

Bennett has painted bluebirds on various canvases, including a vintage 1948 Kit Companion trailer that she and husband Chris Engle (son of former longtime Audubon board member Helen Engle) haul around the Pacific Northwest. “Bluebirds are iconic, Bennett says. It's a sentiment shared by John James Audubon, who described the eastern species, the most widespread of the three, as “one of the most agreeable of our feathered favorites.