Cannonball Jelly, 14 x 11 inches, mixed media on paper.
Martha the Pigeon
Martha the Passenger Pigeon is
interesting for its similarity to the cover
of The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-
Prize winning novel. The attention to
detail draws the viewer in.
Martha was an endling, the last
known individual of a species. Her story
is an early example of conservation
In the early 1900s, University of
Chicago professor Charles Whitman
recognized the population of once
prevalent passenger pigeons was
facing a steady decline. To establish a
stable population, Whitman attempted
to breed some of the survivors. He was
unsuccessful but his efforts raised awareness about extinction issues across
the nation. At one point, there was even a $1,000 reward for anyone who could
find a mate for Martha.
After her death at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914, Martha was preserved as a taxi-dermy
mount for display in the Smithsonian National Museum for Natural History.
She was exhibited at the museum for around 50 years, though she occasionally
appeared in various displays around the nation.
In the modern era, Martha has become a symbol of efforts to reintroduce
extinct species using synthetic biology.
The concept of rewilding the planet is something a lot of people get behind.
Returning a native poulation like wolves to the wild is something that many con-servations
cheer. Bringing other species back from extinction could be an effec-tive
means of bringing ecosystems back to balance. But concerns that rewilding
through genetic engineering or the reintroduction of native species could cause
a wide array of unforeseen problems are not uncommon.
The seemingly surface-level portrayal of Martha has much more depth
and complexity than initially meet the eye, making it a good introduction to
Any native of Southeast North Carolina will likely have a memory centered on
the sea mushrooms depicted in Perry’s “Cannonball,” as they are the perfect size
and shape to hurl at family and friends.
Similar to much of her work, the subject warrants further investigation. In
“Jellybunny,” Perry illustrates that the idea of inserting bioluminescent genes into
rabbits is being considered. Anyone under the age of 10 would never question
the wisdom of creating a glow-in-the-dark bunny, but that doesn’t mean it should
“I have always been intrigued by the line between attraction and repulsion, the
creepy versus the cute,” Perry says.
With “Medusoid,” Perry communicates that genetic engineering could someday
be used to splice jellyfish DNA into a human heart. Since the movement of jellyfish
in the water is similar to the ticking of a human heart, doing so could repair heart
“In many cases, it may seem like we are doing something good for society, but
what are the results?” she says. “A lot of my work is centered on the idea that mess-ing
with nature could have unintended consequences.”
WBM july 2020
Extinction Series: Martha, 18 x 14
inches, acrylic on canvas.
Genetic Mutation Series: Medusoid, 35 x 21 inches,
mixed media on paper.