Nathanael and I have been going on all sorts of trips and adventures. In addition to occasional field work (i.e. nights in the hotel) during the last few weeks, we were away from our apartment for 3 weekends in a row. This weekend we are having a restful break at home with a bit of gardening (and home digging out) on the side, which means I get to start sharing the stories and pictures with you. I am excited about it, because I have been having so much fun with my dear Master of Science Nathanael, and I really want to share that fun.
A few weekends ago, perhaps even the first weekend after Nathanael’s MS was completed, while I was still at work on Friday he sent me a message saying that he had a non-food date planned for us to take on Saturday. I like when he plans dates, so that was exciting in itself, but the non-food part left me imagining all kinds of things. Perhaps we were visiting a goat farm? Perhaps the ice cream factory? Oops, no that’s food. (At least they’d better offer samples.) So, goat farm was just about the only thing I could think of, but as it turns out we were not even leaving campus.
Nathanael brought me to the special exhibits library, and I got a name tag that said “Audubon Day 1pm showing”. I was a little disappointed then, because I thought we were just going to sit and watch a video (there was a room with one playing, featuring birds). But I was very pleasantly surprised when we went into a room with a good bit of natural light to find the pages of four gigantic leatherbound books being turned by gloved archivists.
Pages 39.5 inches tall by 28.5 wide to be exact.
Those books were the four volumes of Audobon’s Birds of North America, one of only 119 copies known to have survived.
From 1826 to 1829 Audobon had the outlines of his original 435 watercolor paintings made into copper plates and printed. Then a team of watercolor artists were commissioned to hand color each print, and the people who had subscribed to receive the collection (mostly wealthy people),were issued 5 watercolors at a time.
When the collection was complete, most owners had them bound, but since each subscriber was in a different location and of different status, each binding is different. The one that we viewed was bound in leather with gold leaf designs.
It is so embellished because this copy belonged to the Duke of North Umberland. (His castle may look familiar....yes that castle, dear muggles)
I have seen selections from Birds of North America for as long as I can remember. Partially because my Mom is an artist (and would have loved to see this exhibit with us), and partially because these are probably the most popular bird paintings ever, and grace the walls of many doctor and dentist offices.
But, I had never appreciated them, or even wanted to learn more about them because in general they are poorly displayed and the colors are poorly reproduced, making them look drab and stuffy. I am just further contributing to that with my photos, I know. But in person they are magnificent.
The placement of each bird in with the plant it perches on, the food source it chooses, preditor or prey it would encounter in the wild resulted in so many phenomenal details.
And the writing, like so many documents from days past is exceptional and elegant.
If you ever hear of a viewing of one of the copies of Birds of North America, go.
Until then, play around a bit with the online Birds of North America, which has been scanned in high quality (though not adjusted perfectly for color by my judgement) from the copy owned by the University of Pittsburgh. If you flip through the plates, be sure to enlarge the box and zoom way in to see the details.
And don't just get stuck on the turkey. Everyone has seen the turkey.
There are 434 others waiting to be appreciated.
Real people made these things.
Drew the originals, carved the plates, and hand painted each stroke.
Note: Actually, on the way to the mystery date, I got pooped on by a bird for the first time (I’ve been