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Events: August 2007

AUGUST 2007

BIRDS OF THE HUYCK PRESERVE JULY – AUGUST, 2007
FEATURING 34 HANDCOLORED AUDUBON PRINTS REPRODUCED ‘IN SITU’ -- SOME WITH AUDUBON’S COMPLETE TEXT – FROM THE ELDRIDGE-AUDUBON 1856 OCTAVO EDITION, BIRDS OF AMERICA

This exhibit celebrates the television premiere of the PBS/American Masters film-- "John James Audubon:Drawn From Nature" scheduled to air nationally on PBS, Wednesday, July 25, 2007. The film had its world premiere here in Rensselaeville, NY, on October 21, 2006, at a conference on John James Audubon sponsored by the Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve and the Rensselaerville Institute. The producer/director of the film, Larry Hott, and his wife, Diane Gary, its editor, were in attendance. 
 
John James Audubon’s print of the Belted Kingfisher, reproduced from Volume IV, page 205, of the 1856 Eldridge-Audubon Octavos and returned to life-size, leads off. It is accompanied by discussion in Audubon’s own words explaining how this bird became the first portrayed as "Drawn from Nature" -- and exactly life-sized.  The new-found ability to capture birds in action proved highly popular and Audubon exploited this talent to varying degrees in a total of 500 ‘octavo-size’ studies, octavo because they are one eighth the size of his formidable double-elephant prints.

Thirty-four of these octavo-size prints, double matted and readily accessible to the viewer, trace the emotional spectrum of Audubon as artist and entrepreneur. Dramatic, imposing prints such as the familiar Bald Eagle and Fish Hawk/Osprey are followed by equally well known prints conveying high energy such as the Common Mockingbird, Yellow Chat and Robin (yes, the American Robin!).

The Peewee Flycatcher, or Phoebe, marks a turning point in the exhibition. The two prints on exhibit of this near-ubiquitous bird, rather mundane in appearance, are not themselves exceptional. They consist of a full 24 inch by 36 inch sheet with male and female Peewee portrayed life-size perched on a cotton plant as well as the 6 inch by 10 inch octavo print. But accompanying the prints is a remarkable essay in natural history – a twenty year old’s observations gained from a summer in 1804 or 1805 living much of the time in a cave home to a family of Peewees.

The literary quality of the essay reflects on Audubon the writer while the science – he alludes to several concepts in gene flow while introducing, and then testing, the practice of bird-banding -- is impressive. Elizabeth Derryberry, author of a recent study on the evolution of birdsong, with whom I shared his essay, writes “The text on the peewee was a delight to read! …This particular text was amazing as he touched on so many ideas including when females begin to incubate and why, the idea of territoriality and of habitat specification.” (Personal communication from the author, July 15, 2007, to view her original study in Evolution click here.)

It was just this intimate, engaging account of birds observed in North America that in 1827 helped gain Audubon membership in the Wernarian Society of Edinburgh -- the most prestigious natural history society of its day -- and later, invitation to join the Royal Society of London.  Only one other American received similar recognition from the FRS before the Civil War -- Benjamin Franklin.

The visitor, once he or she digests this message, enters a quieter space. Simple, beautiful prints such as American Goldfinch, Blackburnian Warbler, and the White-Crowned Sparrow beckon.

The last stop includes an exhibit case containing birds found on the Huyck Preserve by the mid-twentieth naturalist, Francis Harper. On the bottom shelf in the far right-hand corner of the case is Volume 1 of the Eldridge-Audubon Octavos, opened to page 146. It contains Audubon’s Plate 39, The Great Horned Owl, hand-colored. Looking down from a perch eight feet above the proceedings is a heavy, unpainted, life-size replica of the Great Horned Owl. Three other replicas, painted, are perched under the eves of The Rensselaerville Library. Sadly, the library was subject to a recent embezzlement so that staff salaries are in jeopardy.

Proceeds from the sale of limited edition prints, which have been reproduced in situ, of both the Great Horned Owl and the PeeWee Flycatcher will benefit the library. Proceeds from sale of the Belted Kingfisher and the Great Blue Heron prints will benefit the Huyck Preserve. Sale of prints of Audubon’s four nuthatches – a favorite grouping of mine – will benefit both organizations.

The exhibit will run through August, 2007.

Images of all 34 current bird prints with pricing along with information on 45 bird prints reproduced earlier, including all 14 of Audubon’s owls, appear on my website www.audubonoctavos.com under "Birds, Index, Price List".

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