The first time Eddie Woodin went birding, he was 9 years old. He borrowed his parents’ low-power opera glasses and a 1950s-era field guide, and that first time out in the woods near his home in Concord, Massachusetts, he spotted a Tennessee warbler in a spruce tree.

“That was the spark I needed,” said Woodin, now 70 and living in Scarborough. “The door was opened.”

He’s been a birder since, and, more recently, an obsessive collector of bird art. On Tuesday, Woodin will receive an award from Historic New England, a regional organization dedicated to the preservation and understanding of New England history, homes and culture, in recognition of his vast collection of bird art and ephemera.

Woodin has amassed a collection of more than 700 original paintings and drawings by John James Audubon, Roger Tory Peterson, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Allan Brooks and other notable artists who painted for field guides, and thousands of pieces of ephemera related to birds and birding.

Woodin calls himself “a humble collector,” and estimates he’s quietly spent about $2 million building his art collection.

Tuesday’s award, formally known as the 2017 Prize for Collecting Works on Paper, will be presented at the Lyman Estate in Waltham, Massachusetts, and will include remarks by Woodin. It recognizes what Historic New England calls Woodin’s “one-of-a-kind” collection, which focuses on art that helped educate the American public about birds and bird conservation.


It also recognizes Woodin’s generosity with his collection, with which the Museum of American Bird Art in Massachusetts built its 2014 exhibition, “Painting Birds to Save Them: The Critical Role of Art in the Bird Conservation Movement.”

Tuesday’s awards also will recognize the book “Maine Photography: A History, 1840-2015,” by Libby Bischof, Susan Danly and Earle G. Shettleworth Jr.

Locally, Woodin is known for his conservation efforts through his involvement with the Scarborough Land Trust, Maine Audubon and Friends of Casco Bay. He is a founder of Citizens for a Green Scarborough, which helped pass the town’s progressive pesticide policy, and has cultivated a chemical-free garden at his home in Scarborough.

He’s also a successful businessman. Woodin owns Woodin & Co., which designs and manufactures interior retail spaces for stores like Barnes & Noble.

Gerard Bertrand, president emeritus of Mass Audubon, said Woodin’s art collection is especially important because of its focus on artists whose work gave rise to America’s conservation movement. Bertrand is an expert on bird art himself, and has visited many of the major collections of bird art in the United States and Europe. “Eddie’s collection has more volume,” he said. “Eddie doesn’t just get one painting by a particular artist, but he will get 100 paintings by that artist.”

He also collects material related to the paintings – drafts and sketches of the artwork, first editions of field guides, correspondences between artists and book publishers, and other material. His business office and his home are full of art, some framed and hanging on the walls and many more in flat files.


“Eddie is unique,” Bertrand said. “If you ask him about a painting, he’ll tell you not only about the painting, but all the information related to it. He’s become a real scholar, and provides a resource that is not only artistic, but also educational.”

Before he collected bird art, Woodin collected bird books. He started collecting in the late 1980s, purchasing hundreds of historically significant regional bird books and field guides.

In 2000, he saw an ad for a bird-art exhibition in Connecticut, and shifted his focus to collecting art. His first purchase was a 1930s painting of a cardinal by Bertram Bruestle – a nice painting, Woodin says, but it was more noteworthy for what it sprang in Woodin than what it represented as a piece of art: an ardent desire to build a historic collection. Quickly, he hired a consultant who kept him informed of sales and auctions, and began spending more than $100,000 a year on art.

“It’s crazy when I look back,” he said. “My passion quickly became an obsession.”

His first major purchase was a 1914 painting of a kingbird by Bruce Horsfall. “Then I bought my first Allan Brooks, then my first Louis Agassiz Fuertes, and beyond,” he said. “I was excited, and became committed to create a focused, historic collection.”

The historic part of his collection encompasses the years 1888 through the 1930s. The collection from the 1940s through today tells the story of modern birding.

Woodin is in the process of trying to sell his collection, so it can be cared for properly and exhibited more frequently. Bertrand said talks have begun with Mass Audubon about preserving the collection. “I am working with Eddie and with Mass Audubon to see if we can get it protected,” he said. “The vast majority of the collection is museum quality.”

Woodin hopes his art collection inspires people to get outdoors and enjoy nature. “I had the spark when I was young. I love nature and birds, and I was lucky enough to grow up in a natural area,” he said. “I want to be outdoors as much as I can, and I have a lot of empathy for people in the city who do not have those opportunities.”

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