A new exhibition in the LSU Libraries Special Collections gives visitors a rare glimpse of some of the most treasured and sought-after books in existence. “Aves: A Survey of the Literature of Neotropical Ornithology” opens on May 23 at Hill Memorial Library. Four centuries of illustrated books on the birds of Mexico, the Caribbean, and South and Central America will be on display.
The exhibit focuses on telling the “untold” stories of scientific explorers. According to exhibition curator Tom Taylor, “their exploits and contributions are largely forgotten today. This exhibit attempts to bring them back into the spotlight, to assess and appreciate what they did.”
Taylor, an antiquarian book dealer, author and printer from Fredericksburg, Texas, is a specialist in bird books and an avid amateur birder. In addition to interpretive text for each of the books displayed, he has provided brief biographies of more than forty naturalists and bird collectors, ranging from giants such as Charles Darwin and Alexander von Humboldt to virtually unknown figures like Emilie Snethlage, one of the first women to pursue ornithology as a profession.
Leah Wood Jewett, Exhibitions Coordinator for the LSU Libraries Special Collections, points out that the exhibit is not just about birds. It is also about humans. “I was fascinated to learn about the hardships that people have gone through in the name of science,” Jewett said. “It is also amazing to realize how many people it took to produce just one of these books: patron, naturalist, native, ‘museum man’ and artist each made a significant contribution.”
In addition to books, the exhibit will feature photos from field expeditions of the LSU Museum of Natural Science, one of the world’s largest collections of research specimens of birds. Seven specimens have been borrowed from the museum and will be on display alongside early taxidermy manuals. Visitors will also be able to view two short videos on how bird specimens are preserved today.
A generous grant from the Coypu Foundation has made possible the publication of a beautifully illustrated 200-page exhibition catalog, written by Tom Taylor with contributions from Michael Taylor and Elaine Smyth of the LSU Libraries Special Collections. Copies will be distributed to selected libraries in the United States and South and Central America free of charge.
The exhibition runs until Sept. 10 and is free and open to the public.