Audubon Art Exhibit Continues with New Material

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Contacts: Martin Moen, Bell Museum of Natural History, mmoen@umn.edu, (612) 624-0793
Brooke Dillon, University News Service, , (612) 624-2801

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (02/13/2014) —The Bell Museum’s exhibit, Audubon and the Art of Birds, has reopened with nearly 50 new works of art that are replacing light sensitive pieces that have been on display since October. The exhibition continues at the Bell Museum until June 8, 2014.

The new pieces illustrate different aspects of our centuries-long fascination with birds. Highlighting the current show are representations of Carolina parakeets by five different artists, including John James Audubon, Mark Catesby and Walton Ford. The once common Carolina parakeet became extinct in the early 1900s.

"The side-by-side comparison of how the different artists approached the Carolina Parakeet provides interesting insights," says Don Luce, the curator who assembled the exhibition. "The comparisons reveal artistic technique, attention to detail and hints about how attitudes toward birds have changed over time."

The collection of art currently on display also includes Audubon’s American Avocet, Swallowtail Kites, Black-billed Cuckoos, Baltimore Orioles and Osprey. 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 showcases one of the Bell 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. 
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," Luce says. "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."

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 discover, document and understand life in its many forms and to inspire curiosity, delight and informed stewardship of the natural world. For details, visit bellmuseum.org.

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