231 years ago today, on April 26, 1785, the ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Audubon was born. Come help us celebrate Audubon’s birthday (a few days late!) this coming Saturday at our annual Audubon Day.
Few works of art have captured the imagination more than Audubon’s Birds of America. The LSU Libraries’ Special Collections, located in Hill Memorial Library, will host a public viewing of this work on April 30 from 10:00 to 2:00, with four one-hour showings of all four volumes of the so-called “elephant folio.”
Called the “elephant folio” because of its large size, this breathtaking work of art was published in London between 1827 and 1838, and is a visual record of the rich bird and plant life that Audubon saw and drew first-hand when traveling through the backwoods and along the coast of North America in the 1820s. More than twenty of the drawings were sketched during the four months that Audubon spent as a tutor at Oakley Plantation, near St. Francisville, Louisiana, in 1821.
LSU owns one of just 120 surviving copies of the Birds of America. Originally owned by the Duke of Northumberland, it is now part of the McIlhenny Natural History Collection. One of the finest of its kind in the world, this collection was begun by Edward Avery McIlhenny (1872-1949), scion of the prominent Louisiana family which since 1868 has produced the world-famous Tabasco hot pepper sauce. McIlhenny was also a well-known conservationist who established a bird sanctuary and botanical garden on the family properties at Avery Island, Louisiana, now known as the Jungle Gardens. In 1971, McIlhenny’’s nephew, the late John Stauffer McIlhenny, donated the natural history portion of his library to LSU, where it was combined with existing holdings, including the Birds of America.
Other materials related to Audubon in Special Collections include several copies of Ornithological Biography (1831-49), the companion volume to the elephant folio; the octavo edition of the Birds of America (1840-44); an archive of 32 drawings (some by Audubon himself) used in the production of the octavo edition; a few original Audubon letters; two Audubon manuscripts for essays published as part of the Ornithological Biography (“Bear Killing: Scipio and the Bear” and “The Hurricane”); the first octavo edition of Quadrupeds of North America (1849-54); and dozens of scholarly works about Audubon.
A very special feature of this year’s Audubon Day will be live birds! The Wildlife Hospital of Louisiana will be bringing their education birds Scarlett the Red-tailed Hawk, Indy the American Kestrel, and Cricket the Broad-winged Hawk. The student volunteers will be presenting each bird and talking about wildlife rehabilitation, veterinary medicine, and raptor biology and ecology. We will also have a special “lagniappe” table in the McIlhenny Room with a selection of historical falconry books from around the world.
It’s going to be an exciting day! We hope to see you there. Only 40 people per hour will be admitted, so that everyone has a chance to view the four folio volumes. To request a reservation, use the online registration form or call (225) 578-6544 during business hours.