Usually it is wise to avoid books which describe how an obsession has come to dominate the author’s life. This book is the exception to the rule. It’s an exuberant account of how Nigel Hughes came by degrees to realise that his life would not be complete until he had painted all the Cracidae, that is the curassows and their relations – exotic birds found in ever more remote parts of Latin America.
Tiepolo included Daubenton’s Curassow from Venezuela in his mural of 1762 for the Throne Room of the Palacio del Oriente in Madrid which celebrates the glories of the continent of America. The author was determined to see each of the 50 species in the wild to ensure that he portrayed their habitat faithfully, even if the sketches made in haste in the field were to be supplemented later by studies of specimens in aviaries, zoos, and even chicken runs.
While producing a series of water colours of Maya monuments, Hughes becomes increasingly entranced by curassows which he first saw in the wild in Guatemala. For the next 30 years he travels throughout Latin America in search of every member of this bird family. Hughes retains a remarkable enthusiasm for his self-imposed mission. He is undeterred by the difficulty in finding some of the rarest species. When he stumbled into a minor revolution in Ecuador, where his vehicle was stoned, his good humour won through. ‘Forgive my intrusion,’ he said to the rebellious crowd, ‘I am a visiting bird artist.’
After some 30 years of travelling he finally sees in the wild in Colombia his last member of the Cracidae family, the Baudó Guan. This beautifully illustrated book records the happy fulfilment of a daunting task which led to many adventures, all met with equanimity.