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Past Exhibits

-Wondrous Transformation of Caterpillars
-The Art of Natural History
-Mark Catesby
-Exotic Botany
-Mammals: Audubon's Final Journey
-Alexander Wilson
-Drawn from the Sea
-Empire Elegance: the age of Redouté
-Preserving Audubon: The Bien Edition Restoration
-The Plant Hunters
-The Illustrated Bird
-New Treasures: Recent Museum Acquisitions
-Slither
-Painting History
-Artistry & Necessity
-Omnis Ex Ovo
-Daring Pursuits
-Garden of Earthly Delights
-Owls
-Bishop & the Apothecary
-Images from the Sea Shore
-People of the Sky: Bird Spirits in American Indian
-Beauty & Science; the orchid evolves
-The Bird Man: John Gould and his Illustrators
-2015
-The Whole Flock: Audubon's Songbirds
-The Whole Flock: Audubon's Waterbirds
-Deep: Sea monsters and early depositions of deeps
 

  The Whole Flock: Audubon's Waterbirds
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June 10, 2016-September 5, 2016

During the Museum’s early years, in 1923, a donation of Audubon prints from the Bien edition of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America was received from Carpinteria resident, Mr. Wolcott Tuckerman. This gift formed the nucleus of our antique natural history print collection. Recently, we began a multi-year project to clean, conserve, and restore these valuable chromolithographs printed between 1858 and 1860. We have also been able, over the past few years, to acquire the remaining images in the edition thus completing “The Whole Flock”.

The Bien Edition: Seven years after the death of John James Audubon, his sons, John Woodhouse and Victor, decided to reissue their father’s famous work, The Birds of America. With a plan to produce an American edition and restore the family’s failing finances, they commissioned Julius Bien, a New York printer and pioneer in the field of chromolithography. The new technology promised advancement in printing technique over copper plate engraving which had been in use for over 200 years.

Audubon’s images of birds were transferred from the original copper plates to specially prepared large limestone blocks for printing. Oil based transparent inks were mixed to replicate the colors in the earlier prints. As the sheets were passed through the lithographic press, they picked up the colors on the inked stones--laying one color over another. One of the challenges was aligning the paper properly for each color to achieve registration with the others.

In 1860, the financial and social upheaval of the Civil War brought the project to a halt with only one volume brought to a conclusion with 105 plates.  The smaller birds were printed two to a page. The exact number of completed sets of the Bien Edition is unknown, but experts estimate the number to be around 100, making it the rarest of the Audubon works printed in the 19th century. 

Audubon’s The Birds of America, is among the world’s most celebrated and valuable works on natural history. His life-size depictions of birds in natural habitats were a radical departure from prior bird art, blending dynamic avian behavior with romantic style. Born in Haiti and raised in France, he came of age in America where he pursued his passions as he roamed the countryside—hunting, observing and drawing birds. Audubon depicted North American birds at a time when it seemed they were a limitless natural resource.

Audubon not only produced a masterpiece of early American art, he was prophetic about man’s effect on the environment. The early 19th century he knew was a pristine wilderness, teeming with an immense variety of wildlife. During his lifetime, he saw rapid changes and was among the first to warn his countrymen against the desolation that would follow their “reckless elimination of forest and grass.”

The self-taught artist and naturalist spent years perfecting his own drawing technique and developing his mature style. Finally, nearing forty years of age and hopeful of publishing an illustrated book on birds, he traveled to England in search of a printer who could execute such a large project. He was fortunate to meet the London engraver, Robert Havell who helped him create his monumental work. Begun in 1826, it was 13 years before the last of the 435 images of birds that comprise the work was pulled from the press.

 

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