Peggy MacNamara

Coelacanth, 2010
Flamingo, 1990
Metamorphosis, 2005
Insect Nest, 2010
Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, 2015
Ruskin Bird Compositions, 2010


The coelacanth—an ancient and otherworldly fish known from fossils dating back 400 million years—was thought to have gone extinct along with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. That was until one was discovered in the net of a fishing trawler in South Africa in 1938. Macnamara captures that eerie embodiment of this living fossil, a specimen of which resides at the Field Museum of Natural History here in Chicago. While the details and proportions are exacting, her free use of color sets her illustrations apart as expressive works rather than simply scientific renderings. A natural history artist, Macnamara has long served as artist-in-residence at the Field Museum, her on-site studio filled with specimens, sketches, and paintings of birds, reptiles, insects, and museal artifacts stacked up along the walls. This painting, and a selection of others, are stacked in a manner akin to her museum studio. As a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, her natural history illustration course, which teaches close observation together with technical drawing skills, is one of the best known at the School.

Courtesy of the artist.