america’s other audubon

by Amy Azzarito

In the spring of 1995, Joy Kiser walked into the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio ready to begin work as a newly hired assistant librarian. At the foot of the staircase that led to the museum’s library, a Plexiglas display case exhibited volume one of Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio. A label explained that the book was the work of the Jones family of Ohio. The project was conceived and begun by daughter Genevieve, specimens collected by son Howard, paid for by father Nelson, and after the early death of Genevieve, the work was finished by the mother, Virginia, and the rest of the family as a memorial to Genevieve. The story stuck with Joy and she probed further into the family’s history. The result of her probing is America’s Other Audubon. The book tells the story of the Jones family: how Genevieve had been so inspired by seeing John James Audubon’s lithographs engravings exhibited at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia that she decided to work on a companion volume to Birds of America, illustrating the nests and eggs that Audubon had left out. All of the Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio lithographs are reproduced in this book along with captions excerpted from the original text. — Amy Azzarito

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  • Actually, Audobon didn’t do engravings either. He did watercolors. With some work in pastels, charcoal, etc. The engravings for the book were done by engravers, but in any case most of the plates in the first edition were hand-colored copperplate etchings, not engravings.

    And the plates in the octavo edition were lithographs.

  • What a wonderful story and beautiful illustrations! I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the book. Thanks for sharing.

  • I’m a huge fan of Audubon and natural history prints. This family’s story is quite intriguing. These nests are so beautifully captured. I’m instantly in love and must see more of these natural history prints!

  • Grace, thanks for posting about these. Genevieve is my great, great Aunt on my mothers side and I grew up listening to my Grandfather telling the story of these beautiful pieces. Several of the originals are still in the family and are dispersed among family members. They are truly amazing in person. Joy has done such an amazing job of capturing the story and pieces. And thank you again for also sharing here!

  • I have a copy of this book and it is beautiful! To be fair, I might be a tad biased since the author is my immensely talented cousin. :)

  • My mother-in-law sent me this book as a mother’s day gift, and what a treat it is! This book is gorgeous. I highly recommend it to anyone with the slightest interest in botany or ornithology or oology or lithographs or incredibly inspiring women artists!

  • Thank you for featuring this story. It’s a wonderful resource & inspiration!

  • Oh how lovely! I recently purchased The Birds of America and I adore it. I’ve always had a special fondness for birds. Perhaps this book belongs on my wishlist. :)

  • August 18, 2012

    Dear Ms. Kiser:

    John James Audubon created watercolors. Watercolors reproduced result in reproductions, -not- original works of visual art such as engravings, etchings or lithographs.

    On http://www.princetonaudubon.com/ website, it states: “Havell took {John James Audubon} watercolor studies, engraved and etched a reverse image of the compositions on polished copperplates, inked the plates, placed dampened paper upon them, and rolled them through the press about 200 times for each copperplate image. (433 watercolor studies resulted in 435 copperplate etchings, as two compositions were double.) These images were then colored in an assembly line fashion, each artist having his own color to apply. It is not known whether Audubon himself actually assisted in any of the actual engraving or coloring at all. But he certainly supervised the work. The finished result was about 200 prints for each of the 435 copperplate etchings.”

    So, in reality, John James Audubon hired the chromist Robert Havel to reproduce his work as engraved and/or etched reproductions not engravings or etchings.

    As for the so-called John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” watercolors, J.T. Bowen was a chromist who posthumously reproduced lithographically those watercolors resulting in chromist-made reproductions.

    Since the above chromist did not obviously create the watercolors in question but just copied them, no matter how well he may have captured the details, at best, he captured them as reproductions.

    The chromist J.T. Bowen may have been an accomplished artist but in this case he was -not- creating his own artwork ie., lithographs, he was copying someone else’s artwork, in this case John James Audubon’s watercolors, resulting in reproductions.

    Lithographs are -original- works of visual art -created- by an artist, no different than any other original creative medium such as painting, sculpture and the like created by an artist.

    Unfortunately, the widespread misconceptions by the public, in majority because of misrepresentation -with or without intent- throughout the art industry, is that lithographs are copies of artwork.

    To the contrary, lithographs are -original- works of visual art “wholly executed by hand by the artist” and “excludes any mechanical and photomechanical processes.”

    Caveat Emptor!

    Gary Arseneau
    artist, creator of original lithographs & scholar
    Fernandina Beach, Florida