The Other Audubon

A 19th century woman’s work is rediscovered.

I can’t get enough of Princeton Architectural Press—they always come out with the most beautiful and interesting books and the right price point. This one looks like a keeper: America’s Other Audubon by Joy M. Kiser. It features the finely crafted drawings of a little-known 19th century artist, Genevieve Estelle Jones, who began work on two volumes illustrating eggs and nests in 1877. Jones had been inspired by Mr. Audubon himself, and strove to create her Nest and Eggs of Ohio Birds as an addition to the famous artist’s work, which focused on the animals themselves rather than their unique architecture.

Subscriptions were sold to cover the cost of the project but sadly, Jones died of typhoid fever before she could complete the work. Devastated, friends and family took up the cause and finished the project in 1886, but only 90 copies are thought to have been printed.

Thanks to the PAP, the book is back in production in its original size with the artist’s field notes, plus a new text by Kiser. It will be released on May 9th. Keep an eye out for the book signing at the Mass. Audubon Society, the date TBD.

I just adore those little eggs!

Avian architecture at its best.

  • Gary Arseneau

    August 22, 2012

    Dear Ms. Slade:

    Though I commend Ms. Kiser for bringing this wonderful and tragic story of Genevieve Jones and her family’s quest to fulfill her dream to create original lithographs of the nests and eggs of the birds of Ohio, I must inform you that for all intents and purposes, it seems Genevieve Jones was not the other Audubon.

    John James Audubon created watercolors. Watercolors reproduced result in reproductions, -not- original works of visual art such as engravings, etchings or lithographs.

    On website, it states: “Havell took {John James Audubon} watercolor studies, engraved and etched a reverse image of the compositions on polished copperplates, inked the plates, placed dampened paper upon them, and rolled them through the press about 200 times for each copperplate image. (433 watercolor studies resulted in 435 copperplate etchings, as two compositions were double.) These images were then colored in an assembly line fashion, each artist having his own color to apply. It is not known whether Audubon himself actually assisted in any of the actual engraving or coloring at all. But he certainly supervised the work. The finished result was about 200 prints for each of the 435 copperplate etchings.”

    So, in reality, John James Audubon hired the chromist Robert Havel to reproduce his work as engraved and/or etched reproductions not engravings or etchings.

    As for the so-called John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” watercolors, J.T. Bowen was a chromist who posthumously reproduced lithographically those watercolors resulting in chromist-made reproductions.

    Since the above chromist did not obviously create the watercolors in question but just copied them, no matter how well he may have captured the details, at best, he captured them as reproductions.

    The chromist J.T. Bowen may have been an accomplished artist but in this case he was -not- creating his own artwork ie., lithographs, he was copying someone else’s artwork, in this case John James Audubon’s watercolors, resulting in reproductions.

    Lithographs are -original- works of visual art -created- by an artist, no different than any other original creative medium such as painting, sculpture and the like created by an artist.

    Unfortunately, the widespread misconceptions by the public, in majority because of misrepresentation -with or without intent- throughout the art industry, is that lithographs are copies of artwork.

    To the contrary, lithographs are -original- works of visual art “wholly executed by hand by the artist” and “excludes any mechanical and photomechanical processes.” [U.S. Customs Informed Compliance May 2006]

    In other words, Genevieve Jones and her family’s lithographs seem to be authentic works of visual art and John James Audubon’s so-called engravings, etchings and lithographs are at best nothing more than an -urban myth-.

    Caveat emptor!

    Gary Arseneau
    artist, creator of original lithographs & scholar
    Fernandina Beach, Florida