75th Anniversary Programming

Sightlines: 75th Anniversary Lecture Series

January - October 2024

History of Rhode Island Trees Guided Wednesday Walks with Matt Largess

January - November 2024

75th Anniversary Artist Residency

March - April 2024

Birds & Burials Walking Tour

April 2024

75th Anniversary Trivia Night

April 25th, 2024

Plein Air Day

April 20th, 2024

41st Annual Birds & Breakfast

May 11th, 2024

Rhode Island BioBlitz

June 7th - 8th, 2024

Beach Bash: Summer of 1949

July 24th, 2024

50th Harvest Fair

October 5th - 6th, 2024

Annual Meeting

November 7th, 2024

Learn More About our Sightlines Speakers

Kaity Ryan, Executive Director at Norman Bird Sanctuary

Paradise Valley Then and Now

Kaity Ryan was appointed by the Board of Directors in 2019 as the 10th Executive Director of the Norman Bird Sanctuary. Kaity brings more than fifteen years of experience working at the intersection of preservation, education, conservation, and the arts.
A certified architectural historian with a master’s degree in Historic Preservation from the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Kaity was appointed by the Governor of Rhode Island to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission in 2018.

Jennifer Bissonnette, Director at RISD Nature Lab

Biodesign: What Combining Science, Art, Design, and an Eco-Centric Approach Can Offer the World

Jennifer Bissonnette is an ecologist and marine scientist whose work engages techniques of transdisciplinary inquiry to merge natural sciences knowledge, techniques and methods of inquiry with art and design thinking and studio practices. With a BS in biology from Eckerd College and a PhD in marine science from the College of William and Mary/Virginia Institute of Marine Science, she focuses broadly on human-nature connections and systems thinking to help innovate design solutions to environmental and societal challenges.

Nina Elder, Norman Bird Sanctuary Artist-in-Residence

Sedimental: What Moves Us?

Artist and researcher Nina Elder creates projects that reveal humanity’s dependence on, and interruption of, the natural world. With a focus on changing cultures and ecologies, Nina advocates for collaboration, fostering relationships between institutions, artists, scientists and diverse communities. She is the co-founder of the Wheelhouse Institute, a women’s climate leadership initiative. Nina lectures as a visiting artist/scholar at universities, develops publicly engaged programs, and consults with organizations that seek to grow through interdisciplinary programming.

Amy Montague, Special Curator at Museum of American Bird Art

Birds in Art

Amy Montague is the Special Projects Curator at Mass Audubon’s Museum of American Bird Art. After guiding the Museum as its director for 32 years, Amy now….

Robyn Bailey, Project Leader at Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Hidden Heroes:  The Role of Citizen Scientists in Studies of Avian Reproduction

Robyn manages the research, education, and communication initiatives for NestWatch, the Cornell Lab’s citizen-science project focused on nesting birds. The Cornell Lab has been monitoring nesting birds’ reproductive success since the 1960s, and this long-term database is the nation’s richest source of information on avian reproductive biology. A large focal area of the project is nest boxes, and how best to provide them and support the birds which use them. Through NestWatch, Robyn’s research and writing focuses on small things we can all do to help birds every day.

Dr. Amy Johnson, Conservation Biologist and Program Director at Smithsonian

Bringing Back Biodiversity: Stories of Conservation Farming

Dr. Amy Johnson is a Conservation Biologist and Program Director of Smithsonian’s Virginia Working Landscapes (VWL). In this role, Johnson leads a team that cultivates a dynamic network of private landowners, citizen scientists, NGO’s, state agencies and scientists to collectively investigate the impacts of conservation management and land use on biodiversity. VWL research activities occur almost entirely on privately-owned working lands, demonstrating the importance of multi-faceted collaborations for acquiring the knowledge needed to move conservation forward in human-dominated landscapes.

Silvermoon LaRose, Assistant Director at Tomaquag Museum

Ohkehteau Unnehtongquatash, Plant Stories

Silvermoon Mars LaRose is a member of the Narragansett Tribe, devoted to her family, and always striving to be a good Auntie to all within her community. As the Assistant Director of the Tomaquag Museum, she is dedicated to the sharing of cultural education and the preservation of cultural belongings held in trust for future generations. Silvermoon has worked in tribal communities for over 20 years, serving in the areas of health and human services, education, and humanities. In 2022, Silvermoon participated in the Rhode Island Foundation’s inaugural Equity Leadership Initiative cohort and now sits on its steering committee. As a public servant, Silvermoon serves on the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, and as the secretary for the Charlestown Conservation Commission. Additionally, she is the vice chair for the Avenue Concept supporting local public art ecosystems. As an artist and educator, she hopes to foster Indigenous empowerment through education, community building, and the sharing of cultural knowledge and traditional arts. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, a minor in Justice Law and Society from the University of Rhode Island, and a partially completed Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling from Western Washington University.

A Brief History of Norman Bird Sanctuary

250 Million Years Ago

The Purgatory Formation, or pudding stone, forms through erosion of ancient sedimentation. Formations like Hanging Rock are stretched and fractured by geologic forces.

18,000 Years Ago

As the last great continental glaciers scrape and extend over North America, layers of soil are removed to expose Hanging Rock Ridge.

8,500 Years Ago

Long before the European colonists arrived at Aquidneck Island, the site of today's Paradise Farm was home to Native peoples, specifically the Wampanoag tribe, as evidenced by the shell midden on the Quarry Trail.


Pilgrims arrive in New England.


Edward Smith and others, purchase a large coastal area of Middletown, which included the Norman Bird Sanctuary, then called "Sachuest Farm”.

Circa 1750

The farmhouse is built, possibly by Thomas Weaver. For the next century, most of the property is a “saltwater” farm. Sheep graze on the ridge slopes, salt marsh hay is harvested in the marshes, and mixed crops are grown.


Benjamin Gardiner acquires the property from Philip Smith. Sheep grazing shifts toward dairy, grain, barley, and Indian corn production. Benjamin Gardiner is interred at his family burial plot—one of the two grave sites at NBS.


Samuel Allen purchases the farm from Benjamin Gardiner’s heirs, and converts it from an owner-worked farm, to a tenant farm.

Circa 1860

The barn is built.


Mabel Norman is born in Newport, the last of nine children to Abbie and George Norman.

Late 1800s-Early 1900s

Mabel spends her childhood at the Norman family home, Belair Cottage in Newport, before leaving first to attend high school in New York City and later to study art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.


George Norman purchases Paradise Farm primarily to secure the water rights for the Newport Water Works which significantly alters the topography of Paradise Valley. The family continues to lease land for farming.


Paradise Farm comprises “125 tilled acres, 101 permanent pastures and meadows, vineyards, and orchards. 60 mown acres yielded 70 tons of hay.” The farm produces barley, oats, potatoes, and maintains 70 fruit trees.


George Norman sells Newport Waterworks to the City of Newport.

Late 1800s

John La Farge and other artists paint extensively throughout Paradise Valley. Hanging Rock is celebrated in paintings and verse, and Paradise becomes a prolific site for early Impressionist and American landscape painters.


George Norman dies.


Mabel Norman purchases Paradise Farm from the estate of her brother George H. Norman Jr. A barn relocated to the property is used as her painting studio, and she spends her summers living at the farm.


Spurred by a lifelong passion for wildlife and now the sole owner of Paradise Farm, Mabel begins researching how to establish a bird sanctuary.


Mabel marries Dr. George Cerio, an Italian doctor whom she met in Italy while working and traveling as an artist.

1915 - 1949

Mabel and George, alongside their daughter Tamara, split time between the Isle of Capri, Italy, and Paradise Farm in Middletown.


George Cerio dies.


NBS is established at the bequest of Mabel Norman Cerio, to maintain the land "for the propagation, preservation, and protection of birds, and where birds and bird life may be observed, studied, taught and enjoyed by lovers of nature..."


A Sanctuary Committee is formed of “interested sanctuary neighbors…with a common concern for the land and the preservation of its natural values.”


NBS gains its first Executive Director (and first employee), James Baird, a revered ornithologist and conservation advocate.


The inaugural NBS
summer camp delivers environmental education programming to 180 students.


NBS introduces its membership program.


First Annual Harvest Fair


Nearly 200 years after its construction, the barn is renovated by architect George Warren.


First Annual Birds & Breakfast


The Sanctuary celebrates its 50th anniversary.


The campus and existing buildings including the administrative building, barn, classrooms, pump house, garages, and tool shed are extensively renovated.


NBS purchases 23 acres of Third Beach, completing the original package owned by the Norman family. The acreage links NBS to the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge and ensures public road and beach access.


Smith-Gardiner-Norman Farm (Paradise Farm) is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Paradise Farmhouse, Mabel Norman's summer home, is extensively renovated and becomes available to the public as a rental.


NBS celebrates its 75th anniversary, as well as the 50th year of Harvest Fair and the 54th year of Summer Camp.

We can't wait to celebrate with you!

Our seventy-five year legacy would not be possible without the support of our beloved community. Thank you for helping us get here.

Thanks to Our Generous 2024 Sponsors!

Allen's Wine & Spirits

Rhode Island Council for the Humanities

Rhode Island Council for the Arts