Reimagining the Pileated Woodpecker

Illustrator Stephen Kroninger's interpretation loses a bird but gains a glossy string of pearls.


Stephen Kroninger had every intention of including four Pileated Woodpeckers in his cut-paper collage. But as he snipped shapes from Vogue magazine using 30-year-old Hoffritz scissors (never sharpened), he enlarged the birds to emphasize their postures and found that a trio was a better fit for his 14-inch-by-14-inch canvas. “The thing about collage is that it’s improvisational—you make it up as you go along,” says Kroninger, who’s based in New York City. At least one premeditated piece made the final cut: the “worm” in the top bird’s beak. “When I saw the grub [in John James Audubon’s plate], I thought, ‘That’s a strand of pearls,’ ” recalls Kroninger. He turned to the glossies he has filed away for use in future projects. In a folder labeled “Wealth” he found a newspaper insert from the 1980s advertising “First Lady pearls.” The photo fit the bill. Reinterpreting Audubon’s Pileated Woodpecker was a diversion from Kroninger’s typical editorial and political assignments. Nostalgia drew him to the species, North America’s largest woodpecker. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Kroninger could hear bark-busting birds outside his bedroom window. It would be fun to revisit them, he thought, and “drift back to that time.”