In recognition of International Migratory Bird Day, the McClung Museum has created an exhibit of plates from John James Audubon’s Birds of America, Royal Octavo Edition, that depict birds that migrate through or to East Tennessee.
The selection includes species that breed in Canada and the United States during the summer and spend the winter in Mexico, Central America, South America, or the Caribbean Islands (neotropical migratory birds), and species that migrate to East Tennessee during the fall and winter months and return to their northern breeding grounds in the spring.
Between 1827 and 1838, John James Audubon (1785–1851) published his famous elephant-folio-size Birds of America, which contains 435 plates of birds engraved life-size in aquatint and hand colored by Robert Havell. By 1839, lithography had essentially replaced engraving. Audubon saw this new technique as an opportunity to produce a smaller version of his Birds of America. The result was the publication of the Royal Octavo Edition in which the Havell engravings and Audubon’s original watercolors were reduced by the method of camera lucida, a device using a prism that permitted a copyist to essentially trace the original in reduced size on drawing paper. The smaller lithographs were printed and hand colored by J.T. Bowen in Philadelphia and were issued in one hundred parts of five plates each between 1839 and 1844. The McClung Museum has the complete set of 500 Royal Octavo plates, thanks to Ardath and Joel E. Rynning, Peter DeSorcy, and W. Graham Arader III.
The exhibit includes plates of 181 species depicted by Audubon that are considered part of East Tennessee’s migratory bird fauna.