Local Guide: Student Artist Creates Illustrated Book of Birds

By Rebecca Goldfine and Adam Bovie
When Cora Dow ’24 started bird-watching with a good pair of binoculars a couple of years ago, she said "it was like a whole new world opened up. It felt like a gift."
Cora Dow ’24 takes us through the process of printmaking for her book, Birds of Bowdoin. 

She began paying more attention to her surroundings on her way to class. She joined the Bowdoin Naturalists, a student club, going for regular walks and outings throughout the seasons with those who know a lot about nature.

Besides identifying the birds one can see on campus—like Cedar Waxwings, Hairy Woodpeckers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets—she learned about the azaleas next to the Library that attract queen bees in the spring, the edible dogwood fruits in front of Smith Union, the invasive periwinkle planted next to Druckenmiller, the two dawn redwoods, native to China, that add character behind Massachusetts Hall.

Now an avid and knowledgeable naturalist herself, Dow is using her artistic skills to encourage others to discover what is living around them at Bowdoin. "It's amazing to see how much there is," she said.

This past semester, she created a guide, Birds of Bowdoin, filled with exquisite prints of fifty-two common birds. Originally, she hoped to include some of the campus trees, flowers, and mushrooms a visitor might see here, but that goal was too ambitious for just a semester's worth of work. One day, she hopes to expand her guide to also feature plants and other wildlife sharing Bowdoin's campus with students.

Dow grew up in Sitka, Alaska, where her grandparents run the local newspaper and her mom is a printmaker, so she is familiar with the world of publishing. As an artist, she discovered her love of printmaking in Bowdoin art classes, and became entranced by the idea of making her own book when she took the course The Printed Book with Professor of Art Carrie Scanga.

Last fall, she asked Mary Hart, a printmaker and visiting assistant professor of art, whether she could pursue an independent study this spring to create a nature guidebook. Hart agreed to advise her.

"Cora’s goal is to make the natural world that is right here at Bowdoinand often overlookedfun, interesting and accessible to the general public," Hart said. "She believes that the more we know about the nature around us, the more we will try to protect it. Her book is a beautiful fulfillment of this ideal." 

Dow has printed two physical copies of the book. One will be kept in Bowdoin Library's Special Collections & Archives. She has also published Birds of Bowdoin as a free e-book, to share "her vision with as wide and audience as possible," Hart added.