Monday, September 24, 2012

America's Other Audubon by Joy M. Kiser

When Joy M. Kiser began her new position as assistant librarian at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 1995, volume one of Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio was on display in a case near the stairs. She had never heard of the Jones family of Circleville, Ohio. Through research she discovered that they were amateur ornithologists who in the nineteenth century recognized that there was not a good reference book about bird eggs and nests. Encourage by multi-talented daughter Genevieve, the entire family began to work on the collecting and illustrating of nests and eggs from their area. Genevieve soon fell ill and died, but the family increased efforts in her memory and produced an acclaimed work of which fewer than 100 copies were ever made. Kiser tells the story and reproduces the plates and commentary in America's Other Audubon.

Like James John Audubon decades earlier, the Jones family sought to sell their illustrations through subscriptions to collectors. Luckily for us, several of the major museums signed up, and Kiser was able to produce this beautiful book with the help of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. The work is a testament to the bounty of bird life of the time, when even the passenger pigeon thrived.

Readers of the beautiful and oversized America's Other Audubon may be inspired to take binoculars or maybe even watercolors to the woods. I am sure identifying birds by nests and eggs will still be far more difficult than by plumage or song, but maybe we will at least know now where to look.

Kiser, Joy M. America's Other Audubon. Princeton Architectural Press, 2012. 191p. ISBN 9781616890599.

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