Published: March 7, 2006
Soon to become a rite of spring for bird-loving New Yorkers, the New-York Historical Society will open its multimedia exhibition “Audubon’s Aviary” March 17; it will be on view through May 7. With 433 of the 435 preparatory plates for John James Audubon’s (1785-1851) Birds of America (1827-1838) in its permanent collection, the society’s is the largest single repository of Audubonalia in the world. Because of their extreme fragility, the watercolors can be exhibited only once every ten years, and then only for only a few weeks. Each spring, a new grouping of 40 Audubon masterpieces will be brought out of hibernation to create a unique tableau, and then they will disappear into environmentally controlled storage, not to be seen by the public for another decade.
Also on display this year will be Audubon’s rendering of the ivory-billed woodpecker, whose extinction/existence is the subject of hot debate in ornithological circles. Other inhabitants of the 2006 “virtual aviary” (most of which can be spotted in the Northeast this time of year) are the dickcissel, the rufous-sided towhee (now known as the Eastern towhee), the seaside sparrow, the magpie jay, the marsh wren, the Eastern meadowlark, the wood duck, the sand hill crane, the American bittern, the common redpoll, the stilt sandpiper, the great egret and a newly restored ruby-throated hummingbird.
The 2006 flock of Audubon watercolors will be accompanied bya soundscape of bird calls, video, and four newly discoveredSixteenth Century avian illustrations by Pierre Eskrich. Created in1554, they are believed to be the historical bridge betweenclassical and modern ornithology, and a likely source ofinspiration to Audubon.
“These illustrations can be considered a lost link between classical antiquity’s ideas about avian species and modern ornithology,” says exhibit curator Roberta J.M. Olson. “Produced in the service of science, but works of art in their own right, Eskrich’s watercolors were an important influence on Audubon,” Olson said. “They help reveal Audubon’s stunning innovation.”
A new sound technology produced by Charles Morrow Associates, Inc, will fill the exhibit space with the sounds of bird calls, creating for exhibit goers the impression that birds are flying overhead. Birdcalls provided by Cornell’s ornithological lab will include the sound of the whooping crane, red-bellied woodpecker, red-shouldered hawk and the great gray owl.
Rarely seen daguerreotype images of Audubon, a piece of flooring form his home in what is now the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, a tipping purse, letters in his own hand and other objects that provide insight into Audubon will also be part of the exhibit.
The New-York Historical Society is at 170 Central Park West. For information, 212-873-3400.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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