The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 1, 1999


Museum review Drawn From Nature: The Art of John James Audubon

Morse Gallery

Canton, Massachusetts

through October 30

The Audubon Society, whether the local or national version, takes its name from naturalist John James Audubon, 19th-century artist and creator of Birds of America. During its 103 years the Society has pursued a sanctuary mission rather than an art commitment, but that has shifted recently. In 1992, artist and photographer Mildred Morse Allen bequeathed her Canton home and art studio, with her considerable art collection, to the Massachusetts Audubon Society. It is now known as the Visual Arts Center and is responsible for the Society's growing interest in collecting and sharing art from nature.

Director Amy Montague sees the Center and its collection as an opportunity "for promoting sensitivity to the natural world and to the conservation issues related to habitat and endangered species through art activities and art exhibition." The current Morse Gallery exhibit (on display only through October) is "Drawn from Nature: The Art of John James Audubon." If you visit, and you should, consider combining the exhibit with a mile-or-so walk on the Pequitside Farm trails out back, part of Canton's Conservation Commission property.

The art exhibit is tiny by today's extravagant blockbuster standards, but is still extraordinary and worth a special visit. Audubon prints, even more so in person than in books, will astound you by their color, detail, and beauty. Their value as monumental works of research and art becomes clearer when you understand Audubon's drive to produce the finest images from nature, the manner of his travels to gather information and draw these birds, and the 19th-century complications of getting to print. As his own publisher, Audubon sold subscriptions to each book, arranged for the engraver and colorists to produce the copies of his images, paid for the tin, copper, ink, paint and paper, packaged them in tin shipping crates and delivered them, after, of course, preparing the originals.

In the exhibit you can read Audubon's journal the real thing carried across thousands of miles of America, and his Boston-area subscription lists boast a few historic names you will recognize. In a December 1826 journal entry Audubon wrote: "It is now a month since my work was begun by Mr. Lizars [Audubon's first engraver]; the paper is of unusual size called 'double elephant' and the plates are to be finished in such superb style as to eclipse all of the same kind in existence. The price of each number, which will contain five prints, is to be two guineas, and all individuals have the privilege of subscribing for the whole, or any portion of it."

The Visual Arts Center's exhibit includes Birds of America prints "Wild Turkey" (male, shown here, and female), Snowy Egret, Swainson's Warbler, and Black-billed Cuckoo all from the Society's collection. Best of all, there is an original engraved copper plate of the Brant Goose, one of only 73 plates still in existence from Audubon's double-elephant folio. "Double-elephant" refers to the special paper large enough for life-sized prints. In the 1830s it cost $1,045 to purchase a complete subscription of prints from his Birds of America, 435 magnificent color plates.

To accompany the exhibit, the Mildred Morse Allen Wildlife Sanctuary and the Visual Arts Center offer programs in nature journaling, print-making, bird identification, and photography. Don't miss John James Audubon "in person" on October 16 at 3 p.m. He is part of an afternoon of special events from 1 - 5 p.m. Come listen to Audubon's stories, see live bird demonstrations, walk the trails and join art workshops. Call ahead for specific offerings. The exhibit is open through October 30, 1999.

The Center is located in Canton, just a half-hour's drive. From 128/I-95 South, take exit 14 Canton Street/East. Take second right off the highway onto Canton St. Travel four miles as Canton becomes Dedham Street, turning right onto Washington Street. Travel less than a mile to the Mass. Audubon sign on your left, immediately across from the school. Park near the house or yellow barns and follow the signs to the nearby entrance. The gallery is handicapped accessible, the trails are not.

Trails are open Tues. - Sun. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Gallery & Gift Shop hours are Thurs. - Sat. 1 - 5 p.m. Admission is free for Mass. Audubon members, $3 for adults, $2 for children 3 - 12 or seniors over 65. For more information call 781-821-8853.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito