Caitlin Perrigo ’24 installs art designed to protect birds

Caitlin Perrigo ’24 in front of her art installation
Caitlin Perrigo ’24 stands in front of her art installation at Chase Dining Hall. The project is designed to raise awareness about bird strikes and protect birds. (Photos by Keith Nordstrom)

Senior’s large-scale mural in Chase Dining Hall windows aims to prevent collisions, raise awareness

Nearly one billion birds die by colliding into windows every year in North America, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Caitlin Perrigo ’24 is using her background in art to take action, raise awareness and offer some protection at Wheaton College.

Perrigo is a double major in visual art and biology. For her senior seminar in biology, she conducted an independent study on “bird strikes” that combined both of her areas of study. She then created a public art installation inspired by her research.

Her large-scale mural, titled “Wings and Windows,” was installed in Chase Dining Hall on May 9, 2024. It aims to prevent birds from colliding into the windows of one building on campus and also to promote conservation and education.

“‘Wings and Windows’ works as a conservation tool by removing the reflection of the glass. Birds will recognize the window as a solid object and avoid it,” Perrigo said. “I try to think about ways that my artwork can be placed within the environmentalist movement.”

She worked with Associate Professor of Biology Jessie Knowlton, who teaches ecology, ornithology and conservation science courses, to collect data about bird strikes on campus through daily surveys in collaboration with the Wheaton Birding Club. Associate Professor of Visual Art Kelly Goff and Beard and Weil Galleries Director Elizabeth Hoy provided additional support in the creation of the design and its execution.

Beard and Weil Galleries Director Elizabeth Hoy (left) and Associate Professor of Art Kelly Goff (far right) help Caitlin Perrigo ’24 with her art installation at Chase Dining Hall.

The art installation, made of perforated vinyl, depicts several native bird species, including the Yellow-rumped Warbler, the Dark-eyed Junco and the Golden-crowned Kinglet. All of these songbird species are commonly found around Wheaton and are highly susceptible to window collisions, she said.

The making of the mural was quite involved, Perrigo noted. “I created drawings first with pen and ink, then I scanned those drawings and used digital editing on Adobe Illustrator. From there I created a design that could be expanded to the large size that I needed without getting grainy,” she said.

Caitlin Perrigo ’24 installs her art work
Caitlin Perrigo ’24 installs her art work. (Photo by Keith Nordstrom)

The Friends of Art—a group of alums, current students, faculty, staff and local residents—also assisted Perrigo by donating funds to help with materials for her installation. A sign company printed the mural, which is 70.25 inches high x 316.75 inches wide.

Perrigo began the project last year after taking an ornithology course with Knowlton. Chase, which has walls of windows, was chosen as the installation location because of its prominence on campus and the high rate of bird strikes, she said.

In 2023, Perrigo received a Beinecke Scholarship, which provides $35,000 for graduate studies. After graduation, she plans to attend Maine College of Art and Design to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree. She will continue to focus her work on ornithology, following the lead of one of her inspirations, Janet Turner.

Turner was a conservationist and printmaker who used her art to raise awareness of environmental justice issues related to birds, such as habit destruction.

“I’d like to, in the same vein, continue along with her work,” said Perrigo. “I think artists and their work shape culture and are very important because of that. I hope the work I put forth into the world starts conversations and creates action.”

—Elisie Carson-Holt ’24