Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding aid to the Allan C. Brooks papers MVZA.MSS.0304
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (99.08 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical note
  • Scope and Contents
  • Related Archival Materials

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Allan C. Brooks papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MVZA.MSS.0304
    Contributing Institution: Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 5.0 Cubic feet
    Date (inclusive): 1867-1946
    Abstract: The Allan C. Brooks papers contain paintings, field notes, artwork, correspondence, personalia, and publications spanning 1867 to 1946. The artwork and paintings include originals commissioned for publication in Grinnell’s Wildlife of the Yosemite released in 1924 and Fur-bearing Mammals of California published in 1937. Correspondence provides details of commissions, arrangements, specimen collection and transfer, as well as personal exchange. These materials offer insight into the logistics of wildlife illustration and naturalist livelihood in the early 20th century.
    Creator: Brooks, Allan, 1869-1946

    Administrative Information

    Conditions Governing Access

    The collection is open for research.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Allan C. Brooks papers, MVZA.MSS.0304, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives, University of California, Berkeley.

    Conditions Governing Use

    Copyright restrictions may apply. All requests to publish, quote, or reproduce must be submitted to the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives in writing for approval. Please contact the Museum Archivist for further information.

    Biographical note

    Allan Brooks was born in northern India at Etawah as the son of an Englishman on February 16, 1869. Though Brooks’ father was a civil engineer, he was also an ardent avian aficionado and inculcated this love of ornithology in his son. Under his father’s tutelage, Allan partook in natural history endeavors and wildlife pastimes early on from childhood through adolescence. At the age of four, Allan Brooks was sent to England for schooling, where he resided for eight years before the family uprooted in 1881 to Canada. There, the Brooks family participated in a pastoral lifestyle on their farm and both father and son continued their ornithological recreation, whereupon Allan Brooks sketched, prepared bird skins, and ventured into the nearby regions. Brooks began to seriously invest in his passion in 1894, harvesting local specimens to send to experts and museum collections in the United States and Canada.
    Constantly busied and engrossed in his work, Brooks’ career emerged on a more renowned scale with wildlife illustrations in “The Birds of Washington,” published in 1909. This led to further work in a massive undertaking in late 1910 to illustrate for “The Birds of California,” whose work was temporarily suspended with the advent of the First World War. From hunting and collecting specimens, Brooks was already adept with a firearm as a competitive rifle shooter before he enlisted for the war in 1914. He quickly ascended in the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel and distinguished himself as an exemplary sniper. Upon his return five years later, unharmed and in good health, Brooks found himself disenchanted with shooting for sport and immediately resumed his life’s work, committing himself wholly to his natural historical and zoological efforts. Projects flooded in with Phillips’ book “A Natural History of Ducks,” submissions for the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in Berkeley, pictures for Percy Taverner’s “Birds of Western Canada,” and requests from a plethora of other sponsors. “The Birds of California” also completed following the war and became published in 1923 bound in four volumes. Moreover, Brooks was a close compatriot of Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927), who is widely regarded even today as one of the most premier wildlife artists of that time. When Fuertes’s death in 1927 prevented completion of the third volume of “Birds of Massachusetts and other New England States,” Brooks was commissioned for the remaining drawings, and the book was published in 1929. Periodically, Brooks provided articles in editions of the Condor, a Cooper Ornithological Club publication, where he was widely commemorated and celebrated. Later on, Brooks was even commissioned beginning in 1931 to illustrate for National Geographic Magazine, to which he would submit a series of illustrations for 20 following issues.
    Throughout his life, Allan Brooks demonstrated an indomitable spirit and enthusiasm for his work. He possessed a strong desire to contribute, educate, and spread knowledge. Truly dedicated to the integrity of his craft, he came into the association and respect of many highly regarded naturalists of the time. Throughout the 1920’s, with Brooks’ consistently immaculate additions to the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, he found friendship and longtime correspondence in the museum’s first director, Joseph Grinnell. Notably, though Grinnell tried, Brooks, demure by nature, turned down a proposition by Grinnell to pursue an autobiography. Brooks also corresponded with the museum’s curator of birds, Harry Swarth. Brooks and Swarth are prominently remembered for an expedition that became instrumental in its breadth and findings. In 1924, they embarked on a trip of several months to Atlin and travelled together by boat along the British Columbia coastline up to Alaska, making stops to collect specimens and record observations, until Skagway. With a railway detour from Skagway to Carcross, the pair resumed seafaring to their ultimate destination of Atlin.
    Amongst extensive travels, Brooks sustained detailed observations and notes of species in North America abroad, even during wartime (as evidenced by sketches drawn while immersed in the trenches). Brooks continuously identified species and reported his observations, even in casual correspondence, simply due to an ever-present awe-inspired fascination. He met with experts and contemporaries in the field exhaustively, presumably sharing methods, research, and observations. Meticulous and punctilious for detail, with a penchant for creative liberties where appropriate, particularly evident in his artwork, Brooks devoted himself to accurate depictions and representation. Accordingly, he was often called upon to peer-review articles and academic work. In contrast to other contributors from the field of his time such as Fuertes, who focused on the primary subject of the painting, Brooks was lauded for the specific attention he paid to the background milieu and environment in addition to the foreground specimens. True to form, Brooks turned down numerous job offers throughout his life in favor of a more freeform lifestyle, which he found more gratifying than a rigid occupation. Evidently, Allan Brooks is set apart from the many naturalists of his time as a staunch advocate for precision in two arenas that significantly interconnected--one that upholds artistic integrity as epitomized in his paintings and the other that represents a well-founded reverence for scientific discipline.
    References: Brooks, Allan, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology historical correspondence, MVZA.MSS.0117, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives, University of California, Berkeley.
    Brooks, Marjorie. “Allan Brooks—A Biography.” The Condor. Vol. XL, Jan.-Feb. 1938: 12-17. 5 Mar. 2014. http://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/condor/v040n01/p0012-p0017.pdf.
    Candy, Ron. “Allan Brooks: Naturalist & Wildlife Illustrator.” The Greater Vernon Museum & Archives. 25 Feb. 2014. http://www.vernonmuseum.ca/cr_allan_brooks.html.
    Harris, Harry. “An Appreciation of Allan Brooks, Zoological Artist: 1869-1946.” The Condor. Vol. 48, Jul.-Aug. 1946: 145-153. 5 Mar. 2014. http://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/condor/v048n04/p0145-p0153.pdf.
    Dawson, William Leon. “Allan Brooks-An Appreciation.” The Condor. Vol. 15, Mar.-Apr. 1913: 69-76. 19 Mar. 2014. http://sora.unm.edu/node/95452.
    “Major Allan Brooks (1869-1946).” Allan Brooks Nature Centre. 25 Feb. 2014. http://www.abnc.ca/index.php/about/major-allan-brooks/.
    Webber, Jean. “Major Allan Brooks of Okanagan Landing.” Royal BC Museum. 5 Mar. 2014.

    Scope and Contents

    The Allan C. Brooks papers include one bound volume of field notes and two bound volumes of bird catalogues that list the specimens collected over the course of Brooks’ career. Furthermore, the collection houses 42 original paintings, 38 of which are definitively attributed to Brooks and 4 that are possibly his work. The majority of the paintings are commissions requested by Grinnell for his publications: 17 paintings for plates in Wildlife of the Yosemite published in 1924 and 16 paintings for the two volumes of Grinnell’s 1937 work Fur-bearing Mammals of California. The remaining artwork was involved in various other publications by Grinnell and his colleagues. In addition to field notes and artwork, there is a series of correspondence between Brooks and colleagues of the MVZ. Correspondence generally describes transactional logistics, such as commissions and transfer of specimens. Topics discussed also detail specimen observation, collection, scientific taxonomy, and article consultation. Personal anecdotes, biographical descriptions, and travel experiences are also transcribed. The bulk of correspondence involves Brooks exchanging with Grinnell, Swarth, or Dixon. Some correspondence is also exchanged between other members of the Brooks family and the MVZ.

    Related Archival Materials

    Correspondence by and to Allan Brooks dating before 1930 can be found in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology historical correspondence 1908-1930 collection  (MVZA.MSS.0117).

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Biological specimens--Identification
    Birds--Canada, Western--Identification
    Field notes
    Scientific illustrations (images)
    University of California (1868-1952). Museum of Vertebrate Zoology