Susan Ogilvy started painting bird nests almost by accident. One day, while tidying up her garden after a storm, she found a chaffinch nest – a strange, sodden lump on the grass under a fir tree. She carried it inside and placed it on a newspaper; over the next few hours, as the water drained out of it, the sodden lump blossomed into a mossy jewel. She was amazed, and dropped everything to make a painting of the nest at exact life-size.
This was the start of an obsession; Ogilvy has since painted more than fifty bird nests from life, each time marvelling at its ingenious construction. Every species of bird has its own vernacular, but sources its materials – most commonly twigs, roots, grasses, reeds, leaves, moss, lichen, hair, feathers and cobwebs, less usually, mattress stuffing and string – according to local availability. Ogilvy would, of course, never disturb nesting birds; instead, she relies upon serendipity, which is why all her nests have either been abandoned after fulfilling their purpose, or displaced by strong winds.
Although Nests showcases the specimens she has found near her homes in Somerset and on the Isle of Arran, its subject matter is by no means only British, since these same birds can be found all over Europe, Scandinavia and as far afield as Russia, Turkey and North Africa. This wondrous book is all the more special for its rarity. Few modern books exist specifically on the subject of bird nests; the most recent among the author's reference works was published in 1932.
Susan Ogilvy's work has been shown at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, and the Kew Garden Gallery, London, amongst other places; it is included in several public and private collections, including Dr Shirley Sherwood's world-renowned collection of contemporary botanical paintings. She was awarded an RHS Gold Medal in 1997, and lives in rural Somerset.