June 14, 2004

Museum hosting exhibit of Audubon prints

by Paula M. Davenport

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- If a summer vacation is beyond your budget, you may still enjoy breathtaking flora and fauna from across the country -- and it won't cost a dime.

Beginning today (Monday, June 14), "The Birds of America by John James Audubon" graces the walls of the University Museum on Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus.Your travel guide will be 31 colorful prints by renowned wildlife artist John James Audubon, who is still the gold standard when it comes to portraying the bird world.

And be sure to mark your calendar for the exhibit reception, from 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 27. Visitors may see the show through Sept. 24. Admission is free.

The Illinois State Museum, thanks to a gift from the estate of Judge R. Magoon Barnes, is loaning the prints to the University for this show, whose images are about two centuries old.

It may be the only place where you may simultaneously gaze at birds and foliage from such far-flung places as America's coastlines, cliffs, salt marshes, prairies, farms, villages and forests.

Audubon painted birds as life-size, engaged in then rarely seen close-up activities -- remember these prints appeared 200 years before today's Wild Kingdom and National Geographic Explorer programs. And Audubon meticulously portrayed the birds doing aerial displays and other feats among foliage common to each species' native habitats.

You'll marvel at the Brown pelican, Carolina parrots, night hawks, rose-breasted grosbeak, belted kingfishers, pileated woodpeckers, now-extinct ivory billed woodpeckers, American flamingos, Cliff swallows, a wild turkey, wood ducks and eagles soaring side by side.

In 1785, Audubon's father shipped him to the United States from France, where he grew up, to avoid being drafted into Napoleon's army.

On his arrival, young Audubon, 18, displayed a precocious gift as a naturalist and artist and he vowed to paint every type of bird in the expansive, new nation.

In addition to the prints, the exhibition discusses Audubon's life and the 19th Century printing history of his project."I formed the resolution on my landing ... to draw each individual of its natural size and colouring ... " he wrote in his journal.

The University Museum is in the north wing of Faner Hall. Hours are Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or Saturday-Monday between 1 and 4 p.m.

Enhancing cultural outreach efforts are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.