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Rare Audubon Works Included in Fall Exhibit at Bell Museum of Natural History

September 9, 2013

This fall, the Bell Museum will debut Audubon and the Art of Birds, an exhibition that explores the human fascination with birds, and showcases one of the museum’s most valuable treasures: a double-elephant folio edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. The rare collection of hand-colored engravings was donated to the Bell Museum in 1928. After restoration, a total of 50 prints from this mammoth publication will be on display over the course of the exhibition, which opens October 5, 2013.
Using Audubon’s great work as a focal point, the exhibition traces the evolution of ornithological art from the Renaissance to the present day. From simple woodcuts to elegantly refined engravings and photo-realist paintings, the exhibition engages visitors in the artistic struggle to understand the beauty, diversity and vitality of birds.

By depicting birds alive, in action—often dramatically so, Audubon’s images revolutionized the way people viewed birds and the natural world. In a similar manner, the exhibition hopes to shift the way much of the public views bird art.

"When you think of bird art, most folks think of ducks flying over cattails," says curator Don Luce. "There’s a deep human fascination with birds—the colors, feathers, songs; they also are seen as symbols of freedom and vitality. By assembling over 100 paintings, drawings and prints—including those from Audubon as well as other artists, we create a richer, broader picture of bird art and its impact on our culture."

An opening preview reception will be held at the Bell Museum on Thursday, October 3. This ticketed event will include a sneak peek at the exhibit and a program with curator Don Luce, Audubon biographer William Souder and artist-naturalist Julie Zickefoose. Tickets for the reception are available online at

In addition to Audubon, other featured artists include Mark Catesby, Alexander Wilson, Francois Levaillant, John Gould, Francis Lee Jaques, Roger Tory Peterson and Charley Harper. The exhibition offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see works by these different artists, brought together in one location. To protect the rare artworks, the exhibit will close for two weeks in January 2014 to exchange light-sensitive prints. The second half of the exhibit will open February 1, 2014. Each half will include at least 35 of the total restored Audubon prints.

John James Audubon is recognized in both science and art worlds as a revolutionary, pivotal figure. His curiosity about nature began as a child and fueled his work creating life-size depictions of the birds of America, an endeavor that would take decades to complete. His methods were unorthodox, and controversy followed him during his publication efforts. Ultimately his talent won out and Birds of America became a key work for bird and art lovers around the world.  

The Bell Museum is part of the University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and strives to advance the quest to discover, document and understand life in its many forms and to inspire curiosity, delight and informed stewardship of the natural world. For details, visit


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