Alaska Artists: Louis Agassiz Fuertes

lonely caribou in Alakan Nature

As conservationists and people who care deeply for animals and wildlife, we created Alaskan Nature to  provide educational information about the flora and fauna of the great state of Alaska. With both our written information and our stunning photos, Alaskan Nature hopes to inspire people in appreciating and understand the true beauty of Alaska Nature.

Louis Agassiz Fuertes was native Ithacan and the nation's most notable ornithological painter since Audubon. Cornell University holds a large collection of his bird illustrations, as well as his personal papers.

Louis Fuertes, born on February 7, 1874,  was the son of Estevan and Mary Stone Perry Fuertes. He was named after Louis Agassiz, a Harvard professor and naturalist. Growing up in Ithaca, Fuertes displayed an early interest in depicting birds. At the age of 14, he painted his first bird,  a male Red Crossbill.

His parents' disapproval of painting as a career led him to enroll in Cornell University's Engineering School in 1893, At Cornell, Louis Fuertes was elected to the Sphinx Head Society, the oldest senior honor society at the University. He graduated from Cornell in 1897.

.Louis Fuertes decided to concentrate on painting birds as a career after meeting Elliott Coues in 1894 while on a trip to Washington, D.C. with the Cornell University Glee Club.  He would receive the first of his many commissions for illustrating birds while still an undergraduate. Upon graduating from college, he studied art for a year with Abbot H. Thayer, with whom he would remain in contact throughout his life. In 1899, he accompanied E. H. Harriman on his famous exploration of the Alaska coastline, the Harriman Alaska Expedition.

Another mentor Fuertes regarded highly was Elliot Coues, a leading ornithologist at the time. Fuertes created paintings and illustrations of birds for numerous books and magazines. For Arm & Hammer baking soda, he did a series of bird cards that were inserted into the product boxes, and which children enjoyed collecting.

 Fuertes would continue to travel across much of the United States and to many countries in pursuit of birds, including the Bahamas, Jamaica, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and Ethiopia. Fuertes collaborated with Frank Chapman, curator of the American Museum of Natural History, on many assignments including field research, background dioramas at the museum, and book illustrations.

While on a collecting expedition with Chapman in Mexico, Fuertes discovered a species of oriole. Chapman would name the bird after his friend, Icterus fuertesi, commonly called Fuerte’s Oriole. Fuertes lectured on ornithology at Cornell University from 1923, and the libraries there hold extensive collections of his artwork and personal papers.

In 1926-27 Louis Fuertes participated in the Chicago Field Museum/Daily News Abyssinian (Ethiopia) Expedition led by Wilfred Hudson Osgood. Many of Louis Fuertes' most exquisite bird and mammal watercolors are a result of this trip.

Louis Fuertes was killed in an accident not long after returning to his home in Ithaca, New York. Fuertes would be a major influence on many wildlife artists to follow including George Miksch Sutton, whom he mentored, Roger Tory Peterson, and Jörg Kühn.  In 1927, the Boy Scouts of America made Fuertes an Honorary Scout, a new category of Scout created that same year. This distinction was give to "American citizens whose achievements in outdoor activity, exploration and worthwhile adventure are of such an exceptional character as to capture the imagination of boys...".

Johnny AculiakEdwin Tappan Adney| George Twok Aden AhgupukAlvin Eli Amason| Saradell Ard|   Belmore Browne| Vincent ColyerJules Bernard DahlagerLockwood De Forest| Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh| William Franklin Draper| | Henry Wood Elliott| John Fehringer| Claire Fejes| Louis Agassiz Fuertes| Magnus Colcord Heurlin| Norman Jackson| Rockwell Kent| Sydney Mortimer Laurence| Fred Machetanz| Marvin Mangus| Milo Minock| James Kivetoruk Moses| Rie MunozJoseph Henry Sharp| James Everett Stuart| John Webber| Kesler Woodward|


Louis Fuertes bird painting

Louis Fuertes bird artwork

Alaska's Tribes:

Below is a full list of the different Alaska Native cultures. Within each culture are many different tribes.

Learn more about Alaskan tribes

Aleut Athabascan Eyak
Haida Inuit Tlingit
Tsimshian Yupik