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John James Audubon: American Artist and Naturalist Opens
John James Audubon, Passenger Pigeon, Hand colored Copper Plate Engraving. Printed By Robert Havell Jr., London 1829.

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI.- The Mississippi Museum of Art premiers its 2008 fall season with an exhibition of work by one of the world’s most renowned artists. John James Audubon: American Artist and Naturalist is on view through January 4, 2009.

Audubon’s name is synonymous with the study and preservation of American wildlife. His tireless quest to identify and depict avian life took him across the continent, including Mississippi. His resulting masterpiece, The Birds of America folio, and his lifetime of written journals, stand as unique and unsurpassed contributions to the worlds of fine art, natural science, American history, and literature. Audubon’s prophetic and visionary concerns for the environment continue to speak to new generations in the United States and around the world.

“Clearly, Audubon was a man ahead of his time. His keen interest in wildlife and the environment was a forerunner to the missions of modern day preservation and conservation groups,” stated Betsy Bradley, director of the Mississippi Museum of Art. “We hope that this exhibition will encourage viewers to read and learn more about Audubon’s life and time, as well as underscore the environmental challenges we all face today. One thing our visitors will learn for sure is that John James Audubon was ‘green’ before green was in,” she stated.

Working in a time before the invention of photography, Audubon relied on his considerable skills as a hunter. His artistic skills were the result of many hours of hard work and discipline. Although he claimed to have been instructed by the great French painter Jacques Louis David, he received little or no formal fine art training.

In seeking to faithfully reproduce his large drawings of birds as hand-colored engravings, Audubon engaged the London, England, printing shop of Robert Havell, Sr. The complete printing of 435 plates was executed over a period of eleven years, much of it under the dedicated supervision of Havell and eventually his son, Robert Jr. Although Audubon employed other printing houses during the course of his career, the prints rendered by the Havells are considered to be the finest and are most desired by collectors.

The exhibition includes sixty-four of the large, hand-colored Double Elephant Folio engravings from The Birds of America, original Audubon letters, rare books, photographs, and other personal items belonging to the artist. All were selected from the collection and archives of the John James Audubon Museum at Henderson, Kentucky, and are toured by Art Services 2000 Ltd.

The Nature Conservancy is helping the Museum stage the exhibition. “Sharing the message of conservation through this exhibition is a timely opportunity,” said Mississippi Chapter State Director Jim Murrian. “Mr. Audubon’s life and work reflect The Nature Conservancy’s mission of protecting, restoring and managing the natural habitats that the species represented through the exhibit need for their health and survival. As more and more Mississippians appreciate the value of healthy natural lands and waters to their quality of life, we are very pleased to partner with the Museum in helping enlighten Mississippians about the inspirations and accomplishments of this amazing artist.”

The Museum has developed numerous programs and activities to enhance the exhibition. Its October presentation of “Unburied Treasures” will be Audubon centered, highlighting a specially chosen piece of artwork from the show. Additionally, the Museum’s Family Corners and Closer Look Galleries will be stocked with materials relating to the exhibition’s theme.

The Museum and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science are also teaming up on programs and activities designed for children and adults. “This exhibition offers many opportunities for cross promotion of our respective museums. We always welcome the chance to collaborate with other organizations whenever possible, and, of course, the Audubon exhibition is a natural fit for us,” stated Libby Hartfield, director of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.

Bradley explains, “One of the ongoing activities we have planned with the Natural Science Museum is an exhibition-related scavenger hunt. For instance, a visitor to our Audubon exhibition locates a particular species of bird and then, on a visit to the Natural Science Museum, he or she searches for an example of that same specimen in their collection. At the end of each successful hunt, participants will receive a small prize.

“Educational programming and partnerships with like-minded organizations are just some of the many ways we at the Mississippi Museum of Art are working to engage Mississippians through visual art,” she said.

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