In the late '80s, Susan Lester homed two owls in her living room.
For the artist, who died early last year, they were reference pieces for one of the 200 paintings she was commissioned to produce for The Examiner's 150th anniversary in 1992.
But in 1989, when media magnate and then owner of The Examiner Edmund Rouse was jailed in a political bribery scandal, his planned two-volume book of Lester's paintings was never produced, and the paintings vanished.
At least until this June.
Over three decades after the commissioned pieces were to be collected, Lester's family has released Birds of Tasmania - a bespoke folio of 199 of the endemic Tasmanian animals that, sadly, she would never see.
The book - already an instant best-seller and selling out across Tasmanian bookstores - was released officially on June 22 in a touching tribute to the late painter, who died at 65 after a short, intense battle with cancer.
Susan's youngest sister, Libby Lester, a journalist and academic professor at UTAS - who, amongst many credits, worked as a cadet at The Examiner in the '80s - said her quiet sister would have been proud of how her story and her art had resonated with Tasmanians.
"Maybe in a little way, she's contributed to reminding people how special Tasmania's birds are," Ms Lester said.
"She was an extraordinarily special painter of birds, and I think she captured Tasmanians' [attention[ in that way because of how they love their place in the world."
Remembering Susan and her Birds of Tasmania
Born in Hobart Hospital in 1957, Susan's early life was nestled in nature. With her parents Neville and Jennie, and younger sister Libby, Susan lived in a small hut on the foothills of Tasmania's Central Plateau.
A calm teenager who was prone to occasional bouts of "feistiness", Susan came to painting while working at a souvenir shop in Devonport. And though it was never a planned career - radiology was her study of choice - she quickly developed into a more than competent water-colourist.
Selling her paintings at the souvenir store, word of Susan's talent headed south, reaching Launceston where she held her first exhibit - another completely sold out show.
That event culminated in the offer from Edmund Rouse to take on four years full-time work painting for the eventual Birds of Tasmania - effectively a commission for 200 pieces.
Well-known Launceston ornithologist, naturalist and long-term curator of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Dr Robert "Bob" Green was tasked with writing the text for the book, which led to a friendship between Susan and the late Dr Green.
At the time, Susan was in her 30s, a single mother living in Tasmania's north-west, and the commission gave her an artistic lifeline; an opportunity to pursue a passion for birds particularly.
Susan's son Ben Ritchie remembers his mother pulling over during a bushfire to save a tiny, fledgling galah, which the family raised and named Billy.
The time painting on the project had Susan bushwalking across Tasmania, keeping owls as pets and even borrowing some of Dr Green's collection of taxidermied birds from the Launceston Museum. One of those borrowed birds, still in the museum's collection, is catalogued with a note: This taxidermy figure was damaged by Susan Lester's cat.
The commission's completion coincided with Rouse's disgrace, and quickly the paintings - technically assets of Rouse's company ENT - were lost in the bargain. Eventually, they were found around the year 2000, when an accountant stumbled upon them in the safe at a commercial television station in Hobart.
All but one of the works were found; the missing painting a depiction of a swift parrot.
But to Susan, the paintings had disappeared from the face of the earth, and would do for almost 20 years - a devastating loss which threw her focus of making her life and work about nature into uncertainty.
She returned to work as a radiographer, forgoing an artist career for that of The Royal Hobart Hospital, where she remained an employee for the next three decades.
In 2022, one week before she was due to retire, Susan died after a brief battle with an intense cancer, never to see her paintings exhibited or in book form.
As a tribute, her family exhibited the works at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) in February, and would go on to fundraise almost $40,000 from the community to make her book a reality.
Birds of Tasmania and the painting's place in Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery's collection will contribute to Susan's ongoing legacy, remembering her the way only an artist can be: the brevity of life outlived by art's longevity.
"In 200 years time, when a curator at TMAG is going through those works at the museum on paper - Thomas Bock, John Gould, Louisa Anne Meredith," Libby Lester said.
"Why her quite exquisite collection is amongst those others, that's the story we want to tell; the story of Susan Lester right there amongst them."
Susan Lester is survived by her son, Ben, partner Greg Smith and two grand-children, Eliza and Ellie, who share their grandmother's "beautiful red hair".
Why not have your say? Write a letter to the editor here:
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.