Museum open Weds–Mon, Sea Center on Stearns Wharf open daily; both 10:00 AM–5:00 PM
May 10, 2024

Splendid Plumage Showcases Stunning Birds at SB Museum of Natural History

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s latest exhibit depicts birds with some of the most elaborate feathers in the world. Splendid Plumage in the John and Peggy Maximus Gallery features a colorful selection of 30 evolutionary marvels. Originally published in the nineteenth century by the likes of John Gould and John James Audubon, these hand-colored lithographs mark an intersection between scientific illustration and high-status art. Most of the works on view are new donations to the Museum’s antique print collection and are being exhibited in the gallery for the first time.

"In spring 2023, we were asked if we’d accept a large donation of 340 hand-colored lithographs by John Gould, the famous nineteenth-century British ornithologist and publisher,” recounts Gallery Curator Linda Miller. “In 22 years, this is the largest single donation I've seen. It took weeks to unpack, sort, photograph, and accession all the prints to the database.” Miller is delighted to now share numerous newly donated marvels like John Gould’s Blue-throated Toucanet in the new exhibit’s stunning lineup.

“We're showcasing some of the most extreme plumage out there,” remarks Miller. For guests who may think the long tails and eye-popping colors represent artistic license, a video playing in the gallery includes modern footage and wildlife photography of the various species depicted by the artists. A soundtrack of their calls and songs adds ambiance.

Behind the scenes, Miller preserves and organizes a collection of over 5,000 engravings and lithographs, representing a sampling of European and American natural history illustrations from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Changing exhibitions in the Maximus Gallery draw upon this collection and interpret topics of artistic, historic, and scientific interest.

Splendid Plumage is open through September 8 and is included in Museum admission. Members are always admitted free.

Download Press Release (PDF)