Eustis Estate

On the Wing

Artworks from the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon


Barry W. Van Dusen b. 1954, “Museum of American Bird Art Gallery 2016.” Watercolor and pencil. Mass Audubon Collection. Gift of the artist, 2017

The Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon—just 5 miles south in Canton—is delighted to partner with Historic New England by sharing artworks from its collection in this exhibit. To demonstrate the breadth of the collection, we’ve chosen works spanning three centuries and a variety of styles and media. Inspired by the Head to Toe exhibition in the nearby galleries, many of the works we selected depict bird species that were once used in the feather hat trade. In 1896, Mass Audubon’s Founding Mothers, Harriet Hemenway (sister-in-law to Edith Eustis) and Minna Hall, established the organization to stop the slaughter of birds for women’s fashion.

Museum of American Bird Art, gallery interior


The Massachusetts Audubon Society, now called Mass Audubon, was founded in 1896 when Harriet Hemenway and her cousin Minna Hall gathered other influential Bostonians together to seek an end to the slaughter of birds for fashion.

Feather hats were the height of fashion. Just a few years earlier, ornithologist Frank Chapman counted 172 feather hats made from 39 species of birds, during two strolls through Manhattan. An order of feathers by a London dealer in 1892 included 6,000 bird of paradise, 40,000 hummingbird and 360,000 various East Indian bird feathers.

As a result of Mass Audubon’s efforts, the first federal legislation protecting birds was enacted in 1900, and eventually, with newly-formed groups from other states joining the cause, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed in 1918, one hundred years ago.

Many of the bird species in this exhibit were used for fashion. In the paintings and prints: grebes, flickers, bobolinks and mourning doves. In the carvings: ruffed grouse, common grackle, great blue heron and cedar waxwing.


Young Harriet Hemenway outdoors


Hemenway and Eustis Connection

Harriet Hemenway

Harriet Lawrence was born in 1858 in Brookline, Massachusetts. In 1881, she married August Hemenway, the son of a prominent Boston family.

Augustus Hemenway was heir to a shipping fortune and his family’s country estate, Old Farm, was in Milton, Massachusetts. He was devoted to outdoor life and his best known work was as an original member of the Metropolitan Park Commission in Boston, which laid the foundation for the current system.

Augustus Hemenway’s sister Edith married her Milton neighbor, W.E.C. Eustis, in 1876 and built the Eustis Estate in 1878. The two couples lived near each other and would have moved in the same circles.

Portrait of Augustus Hemenway (1919) by Frank Weston Benson

Museum of American Bird Art (MABA)

Young artist studies Coneflower

As the foremost museum devoted to American bird art,
we celebrate the beauty and wonder of birds and nature, inspiring inquiry and creativity,
and expanding knowledge about humanity’s relationship with nature.

The Museum collects, stewards, interprets, and presents the best of American bird art,
and creates exhibitions, publications, and educational experiences,
striving for the highest standards of quality in all its endeavors.

David Sibley with young artist

In addition to the exhibitions and collections, the museum’s 123-acre wildlife sanctuary is a quiet place for a contemplative walk, a living laboratory for citizen science, and an inspirational spark for artists and photographers.

MABA’s education staff are skilled field biologists and art educators who encourage children and adults alike in inquiry, observation, and creativity as they experience nature’s wonders firsthand.