Marcia Strykowski

John James Audubon

John James Audubon (April 26, 1785 — Jan. 27, 1851) became interested in drawing birds and nature during his childhood in France. When he was 18, he moved to America where he began an in-depth study of North American birds. By the time he was 41 years old, his portfolio had become quite impressive. Audubon set sail for Europe in hopes of finding a publisher.

The American Woodsman, shown above in this famous 1826 painting, found success quickly in Edinburgh and then in London (especially after the king himself subscribed to his forthcoming books). And so, The Birds of America was published between 1827 and 1838. The four volume set included 435 hand-colored plates.
Audubon later settled in New York City and completed smaller editions of his Birds of America (7 volumes–1840-1844) and also Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (3 volumes–1846-1853). Many years ago, my library inherited a set of these original volumes and you can imagine the excitement when we recently unveiled them for people to come and see them up close. And yes, touch them, too! Apparently, white gloves have been discovered to lead to more harm than good when handling antique materials.We also brought in a speaker from the local Audubon Society. A longtime fan and researcher of John James, she gave an interesting talk about his life and work.Even today, years later, his skill in illustrating realistic-looking wildlife in its natural habitat is still highly regarded. For more posts about famous artists and authors of long ago, please click on the Author & Artist Spotlights menu tab.

62 Comments

  1. Michelle

    Wonderful as always!

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  2. Colleen

    What a fabulous library you work in, Marcia! Thank you for sharing these beautiful photos.Another enchanting post!!

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    • Thank you, Colleen. I hope all is going well in your neck of the woods!

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  3. My parents had a large Audubon volume. I remember looking at it for hours. It’s time to check him out at my library. Thanks so much!

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    • Oh, wow, those books are enormous. Wonderful that they had one, such a great way for a future illustrator to learn and be inspired. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love birds, therefore I really enjoyed these drawings! Thank you for the post. And who knew about the white gloves–how interesting and surprising.

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    • I guess there’s still some controversy about glove-wearing, as it really depends on the item you’re handling. But for paper, clean hands without clumsy ill-fitting gloves makes sense to me. 🙂

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  5. Bobbi

    What an interesting discussion! Love those illustrations! Wow! Thank you, Marcia!

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  6. Rosemary Krol

    Marcia, Nice post about the Audubon books. Rosemary

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    • Thanks, Rosemary. It was such a great program and I’ve been planning to post something about it for months!

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  7. Does your library still have the books?
    I didn’t know that about white gloves.

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    • My library does still own them (13 volumes). Years ago, they were part of the regular circulating collection. Then, when they realized how valuable the books were, they were sent to the state library for safekeeping. After our program, we had them on display for a while, but now they’ve been returned to a secure location.

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  8. This was most interesting. The books are fabulous, as are your photos. Thanks to you, we now know to approach old books with clean hands and pure hearts.

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  9. Marcia, these prints are exquisite and what a wonderful and special book!! Imagine 435 handrawn plates – wow!! Your library must have been overjoyed to receive his book. It was interesting to learn about the white gloves doing more harm than good…not easy to know at the time, I suppose! Thank you so much for this superb article, a treat to read and savour the photos of the drawings, so incredibly detailed and life like.

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    • Thanks, Annika. His drawings certainly are beautiful. He painted primarily in watercolor and sometimes added in pastel and chalk. Back when the large life-size books were created, there were assembly lines of colorists painstakingly putting in the color.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hello Marcia, I would love to handle those amazing volumes, but I’m sure I would be reaching for the white gloves. 🙂 It is still very much the thing over here, but then we are always slow to change. Thank you for sharing these glorious illustrations the parrots are simply beautiful. Your posts are always so beautiful.
    I hope you had a fun Halloween.

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    • Hi Barbara, whether to wear gloves or not will probably be like anything else, such as coffee–one year it’s bad for you, the next it’s good. Halloween was kind of quiet this year, but that’s okay, busy with other things. Thanks for visiting! 🙂

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  11. Wonderful! I would love to look through those books. You should also check out the drawings by Alexander Wilson. One of my favorite college professors was an ornithologist and wrote a book on him.

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    • Oh, thanks for that. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Alexander Wilson, but I’ll definitely look him up.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. What beautiful illustrations, and how special to have an original set in your library. I didn’t know that hands are better than gloves. That’s interesting. Thanks so much for sharing so many images. They’re spectacular, Marcia. 🙂

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    • It’s a beautiful set. We have 13 volumes, including mammals, as well as all the birds. I only found so many readily available as public domain prints, but these give a good idea of the rest of them.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. How wonderful, Marcia. I love interesting books with unique illustrations.

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  14. Beautiful! I love his work!

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  15. Bette Norton

    Interesting post on John James Audubon! The Museum of Fine Arts In Boston a few years back had an exhibition on his works. Some of his work would be quite graphic with other wildlife and birds eating other birds. Your library is so fortunate to have 13 volumes of his original work. Interesting fact about the white gloves . I have mostly see white gloves on, but recently did notice white gloves off at a lecture at Tower Hill on Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) who preceded Audubon in Ornithology. There were 9 volumes of his original works on display and I noticed white gloves off with the staff.. I love the illustrations you posted especially the two crows, as I have a special relationship with crows! Your post on birds and other wildlife are near and dear to my heart! Thank you for another great post! 🙂

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    • Unfortunately, Audubon had to kill his subject matter in order to study all their details, so I’m not surprised that some of his work might be rather graphic. Interesting that Tower Hill had a similar display, but of Wilson’s work. I posted the picture of crows just for you even though it wasn’t one of my favorites. 🙂

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      • Bette Norton

        Thank you Marcia! I do love crows! 🙂

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  16. What a cool gift for your library! John James Audubon plays a role in a middle-grade I wrote a while back and I’d love for it be published someday. 🙂

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  17. How exciting that your library actually has a set of these books to share with people!! Would have loved to drop in for the Audubon speaker– did she talk about his life and work or the work of the society?? You have the best job Marcia!! hugs!

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    • The speaker talked about John himself and what it took for him to get his work accomplished. She has been a fan of his for many years and actually reminded me of him a bit, appearance-wise (as you might be able to see in the blurry picture of her). 🙂

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      • Sounds like an interesting event Marcia– It’s nice when your speaker loves the subject, shares their enthusiasm. Did you have a good group come?? I think you have the coolest job! xox

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  18. I love his work and recently when I visited the Liverpool Library they had some of his books on display. The owls are amazing.You would love the Liverpool Library, one reading room looks like it is straight out of Harry Potter! I didn´t know about the white gloves. Always learning something new.

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  19. Just breathtaking! I always thought that Audubon was a biologist, but it sounds like he was an artist first (and maybe a biologist later?). I remember the Audubon book club from my childhood, my dad was a member, and I loved looking at all the materials he got. This is very exciting that your library obtained those beautiful books, and I’m so glad you shared them with us! Thanks for another beautiful post, Marcia.

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    • I think he was mostly an ornithologist (bird lover) and naturalist as well as an artist. I’m glad this post brought back happy memories for you!

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  20. Anonymous

    Dear Marcia – his work is so beautiful. Just amazing all the details he captured. Enjoyed your previous post. Congratulations on award. I am with you on apple pie being one of my favorite foods as well. Have a great weekend.

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    • Thanks so much for your comment and I hope you have a great weekend, too. I wish I knew who you were, but your name is missing! 🙂

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  21. Ashley

    His work is fascinating!! Looks like a awesome program!!

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  22. Wow, your library is so fortunate to have this wonderful set of books. It’s interesting that there is a debate about whether or not it’s better to wear white gloves when handling rare books.

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    • Yes, we’re fortunate to have the volumes and it is was a great decision by the library director to share the books with the community.

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  23. Audubon was a master, and paved the way for both the art and the interest in animals. How wonderful that your library received these books! Thank you for this fabulous post, Marcia!

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  24. Oh my goodness! What a wonderful opportunity for all the library staff and patrons to get to see such works of art (and heart) in person. Wow! I would have loved to have seen the books in person. I also found it interesting about the gloves turning out to do more harm. Amazing. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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    • I really enjoyed seeing the books in person and finding out more about John James. 🙂

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  25. I just love those paintings. A book of Audubon prints is something I don’t have. That’s a wonderful set you own; if I lived closer I’d love to see them in person. That’s funny about the gloves. Who knew?

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    • The books are very special and we’re so fortunate our library has access to these volumes. Thanks for your visit, Sharon!

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  26. His bird paintings are beautiful! Thank you for sharing this!
    Thank you for your posts. Hope you find some time to read my story, too.

    Would you consider recommending my blog to your readers/followers?

    They would have a chance of reading a blog still in the process of being written – and a woman rediscovered.

    Have a great November! X

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  27. What a lovely talented man he must have been! This was Such a cool post! I really enjoyed it!

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    • So glad you liked the post, Sophie. I admire that Audubon was focused from an early age and kept improving his skill. It seems those who choose one straight purpose usually go much further than those of us who dabble in many distractions.

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  28. Hi, awesome post. I just like the outdoors, fishing, hunting & camping. People spend much too much time indoors watching the TV. Thanks for sharing and giving us inspired.

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    • Hi Ceola, thanks for visiting. I’m not much of a TV watcher either. 🙂

      Like

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