John James Audubon (1785-1851), the famous French-born American painter and naturalist, is the author of The Birds of America, a collection of plates covering virtually all then known species of North American birds.
The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), which Audubon painted in 1825 and choose as the frontispiece plate of the first edition of The Birds of America (published 1839), is rightly regarded as one of his great masterpieces.
About two years ago I was traveling on a busyness trip in the vicinity of Avon Lake, Ohio, when I spotted two wild turkeys running in the wood bordering the country road I was driving on. This was the first time I ever saw live turkey. I was truly impressed by the size and beauty of those birds, and Audubon’s painting immediately came to my mind. Back home, I decided to reproduce Audubon’s Turkey in the scale of my toy soldiers, but soon got distracted by more important issues and had to set the project aside…
I never abandoned the idea, though, and eventually set out to sculpting my Wild Turkey. The compact shape and large size of the bird made the task relatively easy: my only concern really consisted in figuring out the plumage and feather pattern, in order to facilitate the painting of the finished model. As usual, I started downloading many wild turkey images from the Internet, which I cross-referenced with Audubon’s painting until I was satisfied I had understood how I could represent the main feather structure in sufficient detail to guide the paint job.
I then made a few pen sketches to familiarize myself with the overall look of the bird, and finally drew a scale silhouette of my Wild Turkey, marking the position of the supporting wire armature I intended to use for the neck and the legs, which I made using two metal clip pieces.
Finally, I sculpted the body with DURO epoxy putty, and glued it to the resin base of one of my scrap toy soldiers castings, which happened to be just about the right size.
Once painted, the Wild Turkey, or the Great American Cock as Audubon styled it, will perhaps make a nice addition to my toy soldiers North American wilderness terrain…
The original water-color paintings by John James Audubon for the Birds of America, American Heritage Publishing, 1966).