Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Guest Blogger: Tommie Rodgers

At the Museum: Spectacular Achievements

The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art is proud to feature an exhibition of hand-colored lithographs by artist and naturalist John James Audubon. Spectacular Achievements: Audubon’s Animals of North America is certainly one of accessibility for all visitors. The images are beautifully executed and naturalistic in their representation. While a self-taught artist, Audubon thrived on presenting his animal and bird paintings as realistic as possible.

Born in 1785, Audubon departed his childhood home in France and moved to America at the age of eighteen. To escape his involvement in Napoleon’s war, he was sent to care for his father’s farm in Pennsylvania. Interestingly, he had no ambition to care for the farm but instead spent most days studying and watching birds. Birds became an obsession. His bedroom walls were filled with drawings that he made of the local birds. Every year on his birthday, he would take a visual inventory of the drawings and burn the ones that he considered to be poor examples. Of course, as his quality increased, he destroyed fewer and fewer drawings.

Audubon was not a wealthy man and was actually destitute most of the time. But his passion and determination to document the birds led him to be the first person in America to tag baby birds before they left their nest for the winter. He was excited to find the same baby birds returned to the area the next spring to build nests of their own and the adults returned to the same nests they inhabited the previous summer.

Drawn late in his life and completed by his son after his death, the seventy hand-colored lithographs featured in this exhibition showcase the quadrupeds west of the Mississippi River. Small animals such as rats, moles, weasels, rabbits and squirrels are drawn to show the animals with their families and in their natural setting. Large animals such as cougars, bears, deer and fox are featured in their hunting or grazing habitat.

The labels contain scientific information such as the animal’s Latin name along with a description of its hunting or nurturing habits and its general location on the continent. This exhibition is a combination of science and art and can be used to enlighten us about animals that may be extinct or endangered.

Audubon did not become aware of his own contribution to the extinction of some birds until late in his life. He regretted the fact that he killed as many as several hundred birds in one day of hunting. His notes describe the sky as being completely black with the abundance of birds as they flew south for the winter. It’s interesting to note that we never see the sky filled with that many birds today.

Audubon made artistic and scientific contributions that have not been surpassed in the study of birds. His name continues with organizations that now protect animal existence such as the Audubon Zoo and the National Audubon Society. And, of course, his prints are held in many museum collections worldwide.

To learn more about Audubon’s life and work, come by and visit the exhibition between now and March 26th. You can access WDAM’s Midday Gallery Walk featuring Thomas Jones, director of the Museum of the Southwest, from our web site or here on the blog.

Come by on Tuesday, March 11th and visit with the Audubon Zoo’s Zoomobile. Their staff will be on the front lawn to introduce their animals to children and adults.

The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art is open to the public Tuesday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 4:45 p.m. and on Sundays from 1-4 p.m. The Museum is closed on Mondays.

Tommie Rodgers is the registrar at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art.

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