University Library System Hosts Second Annual Audubon Day Nov. 16

Issue Date: 
November 5, 2012

The University Library System will hold its second annual Audubon Day from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16. The free event, which is open to the University community and the public, will include a display of 20 to 24 prints from John James Audubon’s Birds of America in the Special Collections Reading Room, Room 363 Hillman Library. 

At 2 p.m. in the library’s ground-floor Amy Knapp Room, Roberta Olson, curator of drawings at the New York Historical Society, will discuss her work with the original watercolors that Audubon created for the Birds of America engravings. Following her talk, Olson will sign and discuss her new book, Audubon’s Aviary (Rizzoli International Publications, 2012), at 3 p.m. in the Cup & Chaucer Café on Hillman’s ground floor. 

The works of John James Audubon are familiar to many because his images of birds often appear on greeting cards and in calendars and textbooks. His four-volume set of bird illustrations, Birds of America (1827-1838), revolutionized bird illustration by depicting birds as life-size and in their natural environment. A complete set of the Birds of America comprises 435 prints made from engraved plates measuring 27 by 40 inches that depict 1,065 birds of 497 species. 

Over the years, however, many of the Birds of America volumes have been disbound so that the prints could be sold individually to collectors. Of the 175 or so complete sets printed, approximately 120 still exist in unbroken sets—and the University Library System owns one of them. 

“Audubon’s double-elephant-folio edition of The Birds of America (1827-1838) is, without exaggeration, one of America’s ‘national treasures,’ and the University of Pittsburgh is truly fortunate to own this scarce, magnificent, artistic and scientific work, created by a self-taught French immigrant who truly came to love the American wilderness and its wildlife,” said Charles Aston, the University Library System curator of rare books, prints, and exhibits.

Until conservation efforts on the prints were undertaken in 2002, Birds of America was too fragile to share with the University community and the public. The volumes were disbound, and each print was conserved and housed in archival folders to facilitate access. In 2006, the University Library System embarked upon an ambitious project to digitize all 435 plates of the Audubon prints as well as other portions of a collection contained in the University Library System’s Darlington Collection. The resulting Darlington Digital Library now gives worldwide access to all 435 Audubon plates, enabling users to view portions of the plates at their full size. 

Additional information on the Nov. 16 event is available by contacting Jeanann Croft Haas, head of the University Library System’s Special Collections and Preservation Department, at 412-648-8199 or
(Photos: From top, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, and Pinnated Grouse)