DURRELL, NL – Durrell Museum is preserving the memory of an extinct bird in true-to-life form with its newest exhibit.
This upcoming display is also a tribute to the late Paul Summerskill, an artist from Ontario who made the community of Hart’s Cove his summer home for over 40 years.
The exhibit features 11 replica great auk birds made of hefty concrete and carved with distinct detail by Summerskill. As well, the exhibit will have a painted backdrop by Sarah Stockley resembling the great auk’s breeding ground on Funk Island.
Summerskill first made these life-sized birds back in 2003 for Hart’s Cove’s Come Home Year.
“He wanted to do something to commemorate our Come Home Year, to do something for Hart’s Cove and Twillingate Island,” said Bob Stockley, former president of Durrell Museum and a close friend of Summerskill.
The great auk, a large turr-like bird known for its distinctive feathers, meat, waddle-like walk and swimming skills, went extinct in the 1800s. Funk Island, the common breeding ground for several birds off Fogo Island, was known as the essential place in Newfoundland to spot them.
Summerskill engaged in extensive research to make sure his auk models were as close to the real thing as possible.
After keeping them on display near his home for a couple years, Summerskill put the more than 100-pound concrete birds away in his shed. In 2015, he approached Bob Stockley to bring them to the Durrell Museum.
“He thought it was too nice of a thing to have them stored away, he wanted to bring them here,” said Stockley.
Summerskill passed away at the age of 86 in April, 2016. His wife Tina says it was his wish to have the birds on display at the museum, but it is unfortunate he did not live to see it himself.
“That wish has come true, but not the way I had hoped it would,” said Tina. “My only regret is that he is not there to see it; he would have really wanted that.”
Tina says Summerskill was not only a great artist, but also an enthusiastic bird lover. She says he enjoyed the process of researching and crafting the birds with an avid passion.
She hopes to come to Durrell in the fall to see the exhibit herself.
“Paul won’t be here, but he’ll be here in spirit,” said Stockley.
Durrell Museum member Courtney Bulgin says this new exhibit will also be a great educational tool for tourists and locals, as the auk is a unique species that many may have forgotten.
“A lot of people might not know about the great auk anymore,” said Bulgin. “This is a beautiful bird that went extinct and now people can actually see the immense size of the bird and really put themselves there.”
Tina feels the new display sends a powerful message about the importance of conservation and protecting endangered species – something she and Summerskill were both passionate about.
“Hopefully this will be a renewed history and renewed interest in the species,” said Tina. “It’s a part of Paul’s legacy in the area, and it’s a useful legacy. It sends an important message.”
On April 26 a private unveiling of the exhibit will be held with members of Twillingate council and tourism businesses around the area. Area MHA Scott Simms and Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation Minister Chris Mitchelmore have also been invited.
The Durrell Museum opens to the public the first week of June.
With intimate fine detail in their feathers, beaks and glowing white spots, the great auk models offer a realistic look at a bird that has not been seen for generations. The Durrell Museum is excited for the exhibit to open to the public.
As well, Tina is very grateful that her husband’s memory, hard work and legacy now have a lasting place on Twillingate Island.
“For me, it’s like a dream come true,” she said. “And if it wasn’t for Bob Stockley, it wouldn’t be happening. He was there right from the beginning.”