Press Release: Life-size illustrations of birds take center stage at Audubon’s Birds of America exhibition

April 23, 2019 Exhibition

Imagine a book so massive it takes three people to open the glass display case to access it, yet so delicate the three-foot-tall pages are only turned once a week to ensure preservation. The magnificent watercolor paintings of nearly every bird in North America are intricate and detailed—one page capturing a solo Wild Turkey standing proudly, another featuring both a male and female American Goldfinch in the middle of a cheerful song.

The Field Museum’s newest exhibition, Audubon’s Birds of America, showcases this giant book. Along with Audubon’s travel journal and specimens of some of the birds he brought to life. The Birds of America, published as highly prized hand-colored prints from 1827 to 1838 by painter and ornithologist John James Audubon, forever after influenced the art of wildlife illustration and is the most famous bird book in the world.

In 1826, Audubon set off on a mission to illustrate every bird in North America. He discovered over 100 species on his twelve-year-long expedition and even illustrated some bird species that have since become rare or extinct, such as whooping cranes and passenger pigeons.

“At a time when photography was still at its infancy and not accessible for most, scientific journals heavily relied on paintings and drawings to illustrate animals,” says Diana Duncan, Field Museum’s Technical Services Librarian. “Birds were not seen as art subjects, so Audubon’s unique and beautiful, life-size renderings were impactful not only in the scientific community for capturing the birds at their most natural, but also in the art world.”

“Brooker Gallery is a small, gem-like gallery on the museum’s upper level, and its walls will feature floor-to-ceiling replicas of Audubon’s most famous images. Visitors will also be able to view more of Audubon’s work through a slideshow presentation. A display case will feature actual Ivory-billed woodpeckers from Field Museum collections, which have almost certainly vanished from North America now,” says Jaap Hoogstraten, Director of Exhibitions at the Field Museum.

Audubon’s Birds of America opens April 19, 2019 and will be on display in the Field Museum’s T. Kimball and Nancy N. Brooker Gallery until January 12, 2020. This exhibition is included with Basic admission and will be presented in both English and Spanish.

Audubon’s Birds of America was created by the Field Museum. The exhibition is part of the Field Museum’s 125th Anniversary celebration, generously supported by Aon, GCM Grosvenor, ITW, Magellan Corporation, and the Wirtz Corporation.