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American Museum of Natural History Opens a Restored Gallery with "Unknown Audubons"
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American Museum of Natural History Opens a Restored Gallery with "Unknown Audubons"

- In the Galleries: Arts and Education

The Unknown Audubons:
Mammals of North America
March 31, 2007 – January 6, 2008
At the
American Museum of Natural History
www.amnh.org
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024
212.769.5100
Tickets: 212.769.5200
Press: Aubrey Gaby, Michael Walker


Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 29, 2007


(See a Review of Jazz at The Rose Center)
(See a Review of Audubon's Watercolors of Birds)

(Text assisted by Museum press notes).


For decades, the American Museum of Natural History’s Audubon Gallery has been closed to the public. At a press event today, I had the honor of attending the opening of the new Audubon exhibit in the immaculately restored gallery, a long, inviting hall, with freshly refinished moldings and doors, linen walls, incredibly high ceilings, and antique bowl lamps with metal silhouettes of terns in flight. This Audubon exhibit is not the one we would expect, of paintings and lithographs of long-winged birds in native habitats. That exhibit, Audubon’s Aviary: Natural Selection, opened simultaneously at the New-York Historical Society, nearby on Central Park West. This partner-exhibit at the Museum of Natural History’s newly restored Audubon Gallery is called The Unknown Audubons: Mammals of North America. Admission to one museum allows same-day admission to the other, during these crossover exhibitions.

This restored gallery was designed in the 1930’s by the same firm that designed the Hayden Planetarium, and it opened in 1939, mainly to showcase John James Audubon’s paintings of birds. With World War II, the gallery closed, except for private functions, and remained closed for the past 65 years. The Co-Curators of this exhibition are Joel Cracraft and Mary LeCroy. They are presenting rarely displayed paintings, drawings, and prints, all originals by John James Audubon and his sons, John Woodhouse Audubon and Victor Gifford Audubon. The Museum views Audubon’s life in the context of his family collaboration, his love of endangered wildlife, and his respect for the environment. There are also posted notations about the methods of observing the animals, of his six-month journey to the Missouri River valley in 1843, and of the subsequent documentation of all known mammals from North America.

Audubon’s friend, Lutheran minister, John Bachman, wrote much of the three-volume Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, illustrated by Audubon and mainly by his two sons, that was the inspiration for the Missouri expedition. Mammals represented in this gallery include raccoons, porcupines, wolves, and black bears. Also represented is the story of the transformation of the grasslands of American prairies, the largest ecosystem. Wildlife began to disappear, and today only one percent of the natural landscape is left untouched by human endeavors. So, this exhibition has a worthy educational, scientific and geographic component. Nearly half of the species in the three-volume book on mammals was illustrated by Audubon’s son, John Woodhouse Audubon. Some of this son’s original oils are also on display, highlighting the long-tailed deer and cougars.

When you visit The Unknown Audubons: Mammals of North America, be sure to allow time in the halls of the American Museum of Natural History to see many of these same animals in natural dioramas depicting their habitats. These displays are renowned and iconic. Check www.amnh.org or call 212.769.5200 for more information on current and future events.



John James Audubon Portrait
Out in the field, John James Audubon traveled with knapsack, gun, and dog. This is how his sons John Woodhouse and Victor Gifford—both accomplished artists in their own rights—portrayed him in this oil painting.
Photo courtesy of Denis Finnin/AMNH



Canadian Lynx
John James Audubon painted this watercolor of a Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis) from a live animal in 1842 for his Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.
Photo courtesy of Denis Finnin/AMNH



Porcupine
Watercolor of North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) painted by John James Audubon in 1842.
Photo courtesy of Denis Finnin/AMNH



Swift Fox
Watercolor of swift fox (Vulpes velox) painted by John James Audubon for his Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.
Photo courtesy of Denis Finnin/AMNH



Coyote
This original oil painting of a coyote (Canis latrans )—identified as a “prairie wolf” in Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America—was done by Audubon’s son John Woodhouse Audubon.
Photo courtesy of Denis Finnin/AMNH



Black Bear
Handcolored lithograph of an American black bear (Ursus americanus) from Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. Audubon’s masterpiece was one of the first books of its size and quality to be printed by lithography in the United States, a relatively new printing process that was starting to replace copperplate engraving as the standard for illustrated books.
Photo courtesy of Denis Finnin/AMNH



Wolverine
This wolverine (Gulo gulo) strikes a ferocious pose in this 1841 watercolor by John James Audubon. The background was painted in watercolor and oil by Audubon’s son Victor Gifford Audubon.
Photo courtesy of Denis Finnin/AMNH



Deer’s Head
This unpublished oil painting of a white-tailed deer’s head (Odocoileus virginianus) was the work of John Woodhouse Audubon. A different illustration, also by John Woodhouse, appears in the Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, where it is called the common American deer.
Photo courtesy of Denis Finnin/AMNH




For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net