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From the Stacks 

July 9, 2013

The Changing of the Bird

Today marked our semi-annual page turning of the Audubon Double-Elephant portfolio on display in the library reading room. Cameras were on hand to record this momentous occasion.

flippagemontage

You may have noticed that we are not wearing gloves during this procedure.  While we use white cotton gloves for handling photographs and negatives, cotton can snag, tear, or abrade fragile paper, and the looseness of the gloves makes it difficult to get a secure grip on the text block.  However, we thoroughly wash all surfaces (including our hands!) before beginning.  If you would like more information, feel free to read “Misconceptions about White Gloves” from the December 2005 International Federation of Library Associations Newsletter (http://archive.ifla.org/VI/4/news/ipnn37.pdf) or email the library and we’ll put you in touch with our rare books librarian (library [at] calacademy [dot] org) who will happily explain the handling policies for rare book materials.

 

For all of his prowess as an artist and fundraiser, Audubon had his faults. Reading through his writings it is clear to me that he either trusted people not at all, or far too much. The Pirpiry Flycatcher plate is one good example of this. In his description of obtaining specimens (Ornithological biography, v.2.), Audubon mentions that the son of a friend told him this species were nesting in the College Yard in South Carolina, which he ignored completely, only to admit later they were noted to return every year for three years hence. In the same entry, he states he was told that the plant on which he depicted the bird was abundant in Cuba, so he believed it appropriate as a background. It may exist in Cuba and the Keyes, but it is native from Malaysia to North Australia.

"Gray Tyrant" by John James Audubon. Birds of America: From Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories (Octavo Ed. 1870). California Academy of Sciences Library, Rare Books QL674 .A9 1870.

“Gray Tyrant” by John James Audubon. Birds of America: From Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories (Octavo Ed. 1870). California Academy of Sciences Library, Rare Books QL674 .A9 1870.

As new research is added and collected accounts synthesized, plants and animals change names. The species depicted in this plate not only have several common names, but their genus names have shifted as well.

Pirpiry Flycatcher/ Gray Tyrant/ Pitirre/ Gray Kingbird

Muscicapa dominicensis/ Tyrannus dominicensis

Hummingbird Tree/ Scarlet Wisteria/ Agati/ Bokful/ Heron Flower

Agati grandiflora/ Aeschynomene grandiflora/ Sesbania grandiflora

Our Double-Elephant Folio was the gift of Edward E. and Florence Hopkins Hills of San Francisco. The set survived the 1906 earthquake and fire in the hands of the San Francisco Art Association, who sold the work to Hills in 1941.  The work came to the Academy in 1964.

 


Filed under: Audubon,Rare Books — Archives & Special Collections @ 6:47 pm

September 22, 2009

John James Audubon: the Short Version

Welcome to the second installment of the From the Stacks video blog!

Tune in to this episode to learn about the fascinating, turbulent life of John James Audubon, as well as more about his great book.


Filed under: Audubon — admin @ 11:04 am

August 11, 2009

This is worth crowing about…

We’ve turned the page!

Drop by the Library Reading Room to see a new page of the Audubon Double Elephant Folio on display for your viewing pleasure.

This month’s choice is the American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos (Corvus americanus in Audubon).

“American Crow” by John James Audubon. Birds of America: From Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories (Octavo Ed. 1870). California Academy of Sciences Library, Rare Books QL674 .A9 1870.

We are showing off this particular plate to complement a recent post on the Academy’s Science in Action blog about our increasing understanding of the intelligence of crows and other corvids. Audubon wrote fondly of the crow, praising its intelligence, its bravery, and its devotion to its young.  He chastises those who poison or shoot crows in an effort to protect crops in the field, writing in the Ornithological Biography, “I cannot but wish that they would reflect a little, and become more indulgent toward our poor, humble, harmless, and even most serviceable bird, the Crow.”

The American Crow will be on display until September 8.  If you are visiting the Academy and would like to see it, email library@calacademy.org for an appointment.


Filed under: Audubon,Rare Books — Librarian @ 1:41 pm

July 21, 2009

Birdbrain

Bird brain

Special comb.: (a person with) a small brain; so bird-brained a., having a small brain; fig. inattentive, flighty.

(Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition)

Two birds from Little Screech Owl by John James Audubon. Birds of America (Octavo Ed. 1870).  California Academy of Sciences Library, Rare Books QL674 .A9 1870

A pair of "bird brains" (literally!) from "Little Screech Owl" by John James Audubon. Birds of America: From Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories (Octavo Ed. 1870). California Academy of Sciences Library, Rare Books QL674 .A9 1870.

I know a bunch of things about John James Audubon.  I know that he was a talented painter, a gifted naturalist, a passionate hunter, and by turns a successful businessman and an impoverished failure.  I know that he shot a lot of birds in order to paint them, and that he ate many of the birds he shot, and that he wrote about how good (or bad) those birds tasted.  I know that after failing to sell much of his art in America, he became a sensation in England, a romantic New World icon– in Audubon’s own words, he became the embodiment of an “American woodsman.”

And I know that John James Audubon was many things, but not a birdbrain, at least not by the OED definition.

But I’ve got birds on the brain lately, thanks to Mr. Audubon.  If you’ve been up to the Academy Library lately, you’ve no doubt seen the new furniture in the Library Reading Room, which includes an exhibit case for the Academy’s copy of Audubon’s Birds of America, the immense work known as the Double-Elephant Folio.

Our Double-Elephant Folio was the gift of Edward E. and Florence Hopkins Hills of San Francisco. The set survived the 1906 earthquake and fire in the hands of the San Francisco Art Association, who sold the work to Hills in 1941.  The work came to the Academy in 1964.

We’re thrilled to share this work with Academy Staff and Library visitors.  Watch this space for more information about Audubon and his great work.

Visiting the Academy and want to see the Library and the Audubon?  Make an appointment at library@calacademy.org.


Filed under: Audubon,Rare Books — Librarian @ 3:38 pm

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