Drawn to Audubon, drawn to Texas


Now through July 25th, the Stark Museum of Art in Orange TX is hosting a world-class exhibition highlighting their unique  collection of Audubon books, original works, manuscripts, and related materials. This is a rare chance for the public to see treasures that are usually available only to serious scholars by special arrangement.


One of this blog’s purposes is to alert Audubon lovers to important exhibitions, and to document those I have the pleasure to visit. This year has graced us with several extremely important museum shows on Audubon. I’ve just gotten back from the latest one, and it’s a total blockbuster. It was in Texas — and it was BIG. I will post my photos and observations in this space in a couple of weeks, but time waits for no blogger, and you shouldn’t either. Running through July 25, the Stark Museum’s “Drawn to Life: Audubon’s Legacy” offers visitors the chance to see an exceptional collection of Audubon rarities, including the five volumes of John James Audubon’s own copy of the Havell Edition of the Birds of America, two early J. J. Audubon pastels, two original John Woodhouse Audubon oils for Audubon’s Imperial Folio Quadruped series, a copper printing plate used to make prints for the Havell Edition, an astonishing collection of pattern prints (covering the Havell Edition, the Imperial Folio Edition, and the first octavo bird edition), and many other important prints and original documents (including correspondence, financial records, and contracts). The Stark Museum’s exhibition includes artwork, manuscripts and artifacts that you will not see anywhere else.



Probably the most important holding at the Stark is Audubon’s personal copy of the Double Elephant Folio (Havell Edition) of The Birds of America. All five volumes are on display, including this one, open to my personal favorite Audubon print, PL 62 Passenger Pigeon. The color on this print is exceptionally beautiful, typical of the high quality that Audubon insisted upon for his own copy of the folio.


Pattern prints on the right, volume of Audubon's copy of The Birds of America on the left

At right is a wall showing some very rare pattern prints for The Birds of America. The pattern prints were used as coloring models by the workers who hand-colored the prints. The largest of these pattern prints (at left, closest to the explanatory wall plaque) is the model for the Havell Edition’s PL 116 Ferruginous Thrush (Brown Thrasher); the remaining prints were models for plates from the first octavo birds edition. Visible in the adjacent gallery is one of the five volumes from Audubon’s copy of the Havell Edition of The Birds of America.


The Stark Museum is located in Orange TX, less than 2 hours from Houston and less than four hours from New Orleans. Other than the Audubon exhibition — which is reason enough — the Museum has one of the best collections of 19th and 20th century Western American art in the United States including an impressive sampling of works by artists Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, and John Mix Stanley. The Museum also has important holdings in American Indian art plus collections of glass and porcelain.



Original Audubon Havell print with corresponding copper plate

Mounted adjacent to each other is one of the copper plates made by Robert Havell (using etching with engraving and aquatint)  and its corresponding Havell Edition print PL 72 Swallow-tailed Hawk. The majority of Havell’s copper plates were destroyed or lost over time; fewer than 100 copper plates (out of the original 435) are known to have survive.


Orange has other excellent attractions including the W. H. Stark House (where visitors can enjoy a superb tour of a beautifully restored 1890’s Victorian home and learn about the life of Lutcher Stark) and the family-friendly Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center, which features excellent programming for children and adults interested in plants, wildlife, and the natural world. The Heronry and Bird Blind on Shangri La’s Ruby Lake is not to be missed.

View of Great Egrets and Cormorants from bird blind

Great Egrets and Cormorants seen from the bird blind at Orange’s Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center.


I know you have questions, so here are the answers. It took two days to drive there from the DC area. Yes, it was hot. Yes, it was humid. And YES, it was totally worth it. We spent two great days in Orange, and my only regret is not having spent a third or even a fourth day there before we resumed our travels. I will post more on this exhibition soon, but don’t wait to go see it. This is the last of 2015’s three “once-in-a-lifetime” exhibitions for Audubon lovers. Sadly, it is the one likely to have the lowest attendance, but it is also the one that affords the rarest of opportunities, to see the full quality and breadth of one of the world’s top Audubon collections. Be one of the lucky ones — GO SEE IT.

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