Revealing the Splendor of Audubon's The Birds of America: The Materials, Techniques, and Conservation of a Masterpiece

Monday 16 November, 2015
6pm, $0/Rsvp

Institute of Fine Arts
1 East 78 Street

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The creation and publication of John James Audubon’s celebrated masterpiece The Birds of America (1826–1838) was a remarkable artistic and scientific endeavor as well as an incredible production accomplishment that would be difficult to repeat today. Audubon’s insistence that all of the more than 1,000 bird species be represented life-size was unprecedented; thus very large pieces of handmade paper (the dimensions of which were called double-elephant) had to be sourced. In addition, master engravers/etchers and colorists had to be hired, and the whole project was overseen by both Audubon and the Master Printer in charge of production, Robert Havell, Jr. The entire project took over twelve years and the result is an unrivaled work of art that is a joy to experience. But accessibility to The Birds of America has never been easy, both in terms of the relatively small number of copies extant and the physicality of the bound Plates (each of the four volumes measures about 40 x 30 inches and weighs over 40 pounds). The display, preservation, and conservation of these hand-colored prints have also presented problems over the past 180 years and will be discussed.

About the Speaker: Cathleen A. Baker is Conservation Librarian and Exhibit Conservator at the University of Michigan Library. As founder, editor, and designer of The Legacy Press, she has published titles on topics from Japanese shifu textiles (woven from paper thread) to bookbinding history. Dr. Baker’s paper-conservation experience includes positions at the Courtauld Institute Galleries at the University of London and SUNY's Cooperstown/Buffalo graduate art conservation program. She specializes in 19th century paper and mediums history and conservation, about which she has written the award-winning From the Hand to the Machine. She is a fellow of the AIC, which has honored her with both teaching and publication awards.

For more information on the Judith Praska Distinguished Visiting Professor in Conservation and Studies, click here

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