Published: July 31, 2001
CHICAGO, ILL. – Eighteen months ago, Kenyon Oppenheimer Gallery released digitally mastered reproductions of 50 of John James Audubon’s ornithological prints from The Field Museum. After two years in production at a cost of just over $1 million, all 50 prints are completed and more than half of the sets were sold out. Joel Oppenheimer, president of the gallery, credits this to advances in technology called digital Iris printing, as well as the reproductions’ lower prices.
The Field House Museum will now license Audubon’s quadrupeds in a new series of reproductions.
“From the get-go, we knew the rarity of the prints and their provenance from The Field Museum ensured the edition’s collectibility, and from all accounts we had a superb facsimile, but we were truly surprised when even the most knowledgeable collectors could not distinguish between an original and a facsimile,” said Oppenheimer.
Each reproduction is embossed in the lower right-hand corner with the Oppenheimer logo, the letter O. On the reverse, each print is stamped and numbered and is signed by Ben Williams, the librarian for The Field Museum.
Only weeks before Oppenheimer approached the museum about the Quadrupeds, the museum received an entire Quadruped folio in pristine condition, a gift from one of Chicago’s founding families. Dating to the 1840s, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America is the definitive Nineteenth Century work in the field of American mammology. With a second licensing agreement in hand, Oppenheimer selected 50 of the most sought-after prints from this Imperial edition to be reproduced for the continuation of the Oppenheimer Field Museum facsimile edition.
“If it wasn’t for The Field Museum, and its incredible Audubon collection, we probably would not have embarked on such a technically challenging facsimile,” Oppenheimer commented.
Ben Williams, head librarian at the museum, who is overseeing the facsimile with Oppenheimer, said, “Short of printing from original copperplates or lithograph stones and hand-coloring each print, digital imaging technology gives us the means to achieve astonishing fidelity to the original prints.”
Unlike traditional printing methods, which work from images that are scanned from a photograph, the “Oppenheimer Field Museum Edition,” is made directly from the original. Before a finished print is deemed acceptable, as many as ten steps, or proofing stages, and color correction are involved. Somerset Satin Radiant White 330 Gsm 100 percent rag acid-free archival paper, which is very similar to paper used in the original engravings, and water-based dyes that nearly match the originals, which were made from watercolor pigments, are again being used.
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