“Birds of America” is displayed in Miller Center

The library in the Miller Center hosted the reveal of a new installation last Thursday that pays homage to American ornithologist and painter, John James Audubon, and his renowned work, “The Birds of America”.

The installation is placed in the Library’s first floor west wing reading court and includes No. 100 of 250 facsimiles in the world of “The Birds of America”, a display of some preserved American birds that can be found in Minn., and a drawing station where visitors can try their hand at drawing the birds of America.

The four-volume facsimile, which is an exact replica of the original, contains 435 prints total. It was purchased by SCSU in the 1970’s for $7,000. According to Tom Steman, university archivist, a copy of the original set would be valued today at around $10 million. The volumes on display are the actual size of the original prints, which are 39 by 26 inches.

The volumes depict a variety of bird species in America in Audubon’s time. The images depict the birds in actual size and in their natural habitat. The library staff will turn the page every week for 435 weeks, each time revealing a new bird.

“It’s an amazing piece of art,” said Dean of Learning Resources Mark Vargas, when asked why the library is highlighting James Audubon’s work. “He was one of the original conservationists. He was the first person to tag birds. He took the lead in a lot of things that we take for granted today.”

Of the birds that Audubon captured on print, six are now extinct and 25 are currently on the endangered species list.

“Unfortunately, this may be the only way our children will be able to see some of these birds,” said Vargas.

When he was 35, John James Audubon decided to paint every bird in America and sell the prints in order to support his family financially. When he could find no financial support for this endeavor in America, he traveled to Europe where he found patrons who were willing to pay a subscription to periodically receive Audubon’s paintings.

Every month, Audubon sent five paintings of five different species of birds to his patrons. It took 12 years to paint every known bird in America, and the completion of the project resulted in “The Birds of America”. It is estimated that only about 200 complete sets were ever compiled and only 119 are known to have survived.

In 1971, the Johnson Reprint Corporation of New York and Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of Amsterdam undertook the production of 250 full-sized, full-color facsimiles of “The Birds of America” based on an original that Audubon had sold to the Teylers Museum in the Netherlands. It is one of these 250 volumes that now sits in the SCSU library.

“I’ve seen some of the work before, and thought it was just beautiful,” said Emily Carda, sophomore at SCSU. “To see the pictures up close and to see all the detail that actually goes into the pictures is incredible. I had no idea they would have had that much quality.” Carda says she plans to come back every week to see which bird is revealed as the page is turned.

This week’s bird, the first revealed of the 435, is the Wild Turkey. If you want to see any of the volumes not on display, you can contact the Archives department in the Miller Center.

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