This exhibit features selections from John James Audubon’s Birds of America, a collection of 435 life-size watercolors reproduced from hand-engraved plates and printed between 1827 and 1838. Eliphalet Nott acquired Union College’s copy of Birds of America directly from Audubon himself in 1844. Originally bound in four volumes, our copy underwent significant conservation treatment in 2006 and the engravings are now housed individually, making for easier and safer display.
Audubon’s techniques were rare for their time, particularly in the way he depicted wildlife: he included backgrounds and landscapes in his watercolors, whereas his contemporaries depicted the birds on a plain white background. For Audubon, birds could not be separated from their environments. Many of Audubon’s backgrounds are wonderful depictions of nature and provide insight into the lives of birds and the natural world in the early 19th century.
Much like the physical prints, the flora and fauna of the world have undergone dramatic changes. For Fall 2022, we offer four of the birds who have gone extinct since Audubon captured them in watercolors. The reasons for extinction vary but all circle back to our impact on the environment.
Click on each image to enlarge. For more information about each bird, use the link below the image.