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William Zimmerman

You are probably familiar with the artwork of William Zimmerman, whether or not you are familiar with the name. Since the age of 10 when he began to paint, William Zimmerman has grown into one of the finest bird and wildlife painters in North America.

Zimmerman was kind enough to invite us into his home and studio, where we had the chance to talk to him and see some of his works in progress. Although Bill is a humble man, it is apparent by seeing his work that he takes great care and pride in his art.

Zimmerman was first inspired to paint when he was ten years old. He had neighbors who were bird watchers and relatives who were artists, and “I put the two together”, he says. He had also been exposed to an Audubon book and told himself, “If you’re going to be interested in nature, you’ve got to be a painter. You need to document it.”

So after drawing, painting and practicing his art at home, Zimmerman studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy. He started his professional art career with the Gibson Greeting Card Company, and there was able to focus on the wildlife subjects he had studied as a boy.

In 1965, Zimmerman set out on an endeavor with his friend and fellow wildlife artist John Ruthren, to write and illustrate a field guide to waterfowl of North American. This was published by Moebius Publishing Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Since then, his works have filled the pages of some of the most loved bird and wildlife books in North America. In 1974, Waterfowl of North America was published, which featured 42 of his paintings of all species of wild swans, geese and ducks known to nest on the North American continent. This was a dream come true for Zimmerman.

The Birds of Indiana, by Charles E. Keller and Russell E. Mumford was published by Indiana University Press in 1984, and featured 175 of Zimmerman’s original paintings of nesting birds of Indiana. This was followed in 1989 by The Birds of Illinois and The Birds of Ohio, in which 48 of his paintings were published. And in 1994 The Birds of Kentucky, was published, in which two new paintings were introduced, as well as 48 previously published works.

He is now excited to have had another painting just published in Wildlife Art “with several other wildlife artists”. He says that it “is always complimentary to be part of your peers.”

Even if you’ve never opened a bird book in your life, you may have seen Zimmerman’s artwork gracing the labels of Oliver Winery’s wine bottles. He has been doing paintings for their labels for several years. He had been doing one or two a year for them, but at one point they redid all of their fruit wines, and he did nine new labels, painting a series of butterflies on the different types of fruit. He says, “That was kind of fun. I did three labels of the different grapes. I did a bird every year. I did a fox one year”, and for the Hummingbird Wine, which was a blend of peach, honey, and fruit, “they commissioned me to do a hummingbird on a peach blossom with honeybees.” He then showed us a beautiful bottle of Merlot with a blue heron on the front label and a frog on the back. And the nice thing about this medium, Bill says, is when the occasion arises, “I can always go get some wine and give it as a gift. I get a double whammy with it!”

Just then Zimmerman mutters the name of a bird (a warbler?) as his attention is drawn outside. I see a bird flitter off. “I’m always bird watching, and birds don’t stay still so you gotta bird watch in everything you do”, he explains.

When asked how Zimmerman describes his art, he says, “I guess the simplest thing is, and I view it like I view religion, I aspire to be a ‘scientific illustrator’, like I aspire to be a good Christian. I don’t have a true scientific background in the true sense of the word, but when I do a painting I try to do as much research as I can to make it as authentic as I can.”

“For example, I’m doing a painting of a warbler for some people, and they said, ‘Well, it would be neat to have a little insect hidden in the picture’, because warblers are big insect eaters... Well I don’t want to put an insect that tastes bad, that a warbler wouldn’t eat. So I have to kind of zero in on that and research what they eat.”

As mentioned, Zimmerman was intrigued by Audubon’s work as a child, and was influenced at a young age by his work. He now realizes that “his work was much more casual than I knew it was, because I was looking at the engravings that had been done by Havell, in England. So my paintings were much more detailed than Audubon’s, because he would do a watercolor and send it to an engraver, who would sharpen it up. I didn’t pay any attention to that. You know, Audubon was Audubon, and I didn’t give Havell any credit. They were kind of my mentors from an inspirational point of view.”

One of Zimmerman’s projects this summer has been the Indiana Cardinal, and a Wood Duck that will be released this October. The Indiana Cardinal is available in prints, which he had gotten away from since he had been doing so many books. “This is kind of an effort to get back into it.”

He took the month of May to basically drive all over Indiana and get the prints out to gift shops and galleries throughout the state. “I’ve tried to make this a real reasonable product. I understand that most people don’t have $2,000 or $3,000 of disposable income to put a bird picture on their wall when they can buy one for $20.00. So it’s been real rewarding. This weekend I had a little autographing of these in Madison, and I stopped at Clifty Falls. As I’m going out this lady came up to me and said, ‘Oh, I just got your cardinal poster; somebody just gave it to me for my birthday and I’m quite happy!’ So those are the kind of things that I like, that I want to do, and that’s why I did this in particular.”

William Zimmerman’s artwork can be seen in several places throughout Indiana, as well as at his home by appointment. A collection of 100 of the The Birds of Indiana paintings are hanging in the corridor of the atrium at Jordan Hall at Indiana University in Bloomington. Twenty-five of his North American woodpecker paintings are also at the Indiana University Art Museum. Also, a series of state park prints he did are housed at the Indiana State Museum. Donna’s Custom Framing in Nashville displays and sells some of his original art. The Indiana Cardinal print is also available at gift shops and galleries throughout Indiana.

It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Zimmerman. He and his wife, Judy, live in Nashville in the hill country of south-central Indiana. If you are interested in more information on the works of this Southern Indiana native, he can be reached at 812-988-7091.

Also see the book, Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers.

Highlighted books may be ordered from by clicking on the book names.