Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Audubon, birds, and one expensive book

Yesterday was the birthday of John James Audubon. The French-American naturalist's name has become synonymous with conservation and birds. Audubon grew increasingly fascinated with birds throughout his youth in the Caribbean and France. This fascination blossomed upon his immigration to the United States. Settling in Kentucky, Audubon set about cataloging American birds. A skilled shot (how else could he get his subjects to hold still?) and an accomplished painter, Audubon's work has become the benchmark for ornithological painting. Cameras enable precise images of birds, but the richness of Audubon's paintings were groundbreaking then and beautiful still.

So beautiful (and rare) that Audubon's Birds of America sold at auction earlier this year for over $11 million, which firmly perches it as the most expensive printed book ever sold. The Austin Public Library does not own a copy of this edition. However! We do own an edition the Audubon Society published and cutely titled the Baby Elephant Folio. This folio includes all of Audubon's watercolors and essays and measures only slightly smaller than the $11 million version.The baby elephant folio does not checkout, but is worth a trip downtown.

Other writings and paintings by John James Audubon:

The Audubon Reader

Writings and Drawings

Another great resource is the National Audubon Society's online offering. This digital Birds of America provides a nice browsable counterpoint to APL's physical holdings.

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