PITTSFIELD, MA.- Berkshire Museum
is presenting the major exhibition, Taking Flight: Audubon and the World of Birds, through June 17, 2012, showcasing the masterful wildlife art of John James Audubon and exploring the fascinating realm of birds, from the tiniest hummingbird to the flightless ostrich.
The exhibition, Taking Flight: Audubon and the World of Birds, centers on John James Audubon and his passion for birds, which drove him to create The Birds of America, a revolutionary work of science and art that launched Audubons reputation as the worlds most renowned wildlife artist. It is one of the best Audubon exhibits that Ive ever seen, said Jean Bochnowski, director of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove in Pennsylvania, during her talk on the opening day of the exhibition. What strikes me is that it talks about Audubon and it talks about birds and art the way I think that Audubon would want it to be told.
More than thirty original hand-colored, life-size prints of birds from The Birds of America, engraved by Robert Havell Sr. and Robert Havell Jr. from Audubons original watercolors, are on loan from the Shelburne Museum, National Audubon Society, Arader Galleries, the Chapin Library at Williams College, and individual lenders. The prints, paired with almost as many bird specimens from the Museums collection, as well as loans from Harvard University, comprise the centerpiece of the exhibition. Works by Audubons contemporaries, such as Alexander Wilson, also are on view.
Visitors learn how Audubons obsession drove him to extremes to produce the watercolors for the engravings that revolutionized the art of the naturalist, raising it to the level of fine art, and they follow Audubons rugged wilderness journey as he painstakingly researched every bird species in North America for The Birds of America. The Birds of America, the four-volume set made up of the meticulous engravings, is now the most valuable book in the world; one recently sold at auction for $11.5 million.
Taking Flight presents the complicated story and the innovative, boundary-breaking artistry of the French-born naturalist and artist John James Audubon. Audubon was instrumental in changing the way birds were studied in the United States, and anywhere in the world for that matter, in the early nineteenth century. He gave the art of the naturalist a fresh context, says Maria Mingalone, the Museums director of interpretation and the curator of Taking Flight. His work was such genius it was collected by kings. We have combined the compelling story of Audubons masterwork with an inventive look at birds and their unique place in the natural world. Birds of North America, because of Audubons legacy, were the most well-documented and understood birds worldwide. Visitors will find an interesting story that is uplifting from a visual arts standpoint as well as one that digs deeply into the unique and fascinating life of birds, and mans relationship to them.
The science of feathers and flight, the many different bird habitats, the highly-evolved senses of birds, bird intelligence, and bird behavior are all explored in a series of galleries containing a wide array of photographs and video, art, objects, specimens and samples of birds, eggs, and nests.
On earth since the dinosaur, birdsthe fascinating creatures that flock, roost, migrate, sing, fly, and have adapted to some of the most extreme habitats on earthhave always sparked human imagination. They figure prominently in the arts, literature, mythology, science, and popular culture. In uncovering surprising facts about our feathered friends that will awe and inspire, visitors to Taking Flight: Audubon and the World of Birds will appreciate the diversity and wonder of birds, the resilient and beautiful creatures that have taken flight in our hearts and imaginations for millenia.
Taking Flight plunges the viewer into the cultural and natural histories of birds through the extraordinary story of John James Audubons pioneering work to illustrate what he observed in nature, says Van W. Shields, executive director of Berkshire Museum. Along the way, visitors will enjoy a rare opportunity to view his pioneering art and explore various aspects of the world of birds in the unique exhibition environment that the Berkshire Museum is known for.