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John James Audubon: American Woodsman, Part 1

2012-06-18 | 🔗

Though John James Audubon was the son of a French planter, he cultivated the image of an American frontiersman. In this episode, New York Public Library curator Michael Inman joins us for a discussion of Audubon's early life.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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to some big issues like this country's devastating maternal mortality rate, the right of astrology and a little called the presidential election. Listen to next question. It comes out every Thursday on the eye radioactive apple podcast or wherever you. Your favorite shows welcome to stuff you missed in history class from how it works hello work into the past, unfair, daddy and I'm going to drop her body, and today were going to be talking about. John James, of course, is the famous creator of Birds, America, in addition to being a naturalist, a great outdoorsman and its He sees us, I believe that oughta bond might have been the founder of the Ottawa in society still has his name, it still the biggest name and bird conservation today, but that is not
the case that all new on upon it actually been dead for more than thirty years when George furred Grenelle the societies Under an admirer of Audubon started, publishing articles, critiquing, plume hunting in his hunting and fishing magazine, and that was in the late eighteen, eighty is and craze for those huge feathered. Hats known as
Gainsborough halves was decimating north american burn populations, especially shore end waterborne, and we talked a little bit about gains for our hearts and our real Moriarty episode in that the Portress, the duchess of Devon sure sort of starting that trend again for these huge hats that, but it really was affecting waterbirds shore birds, because plume hunters were killing them for their feathers. The Grenelle publication didn't last that long, but a few years after it shut down a socialite named Harriet Hemingway decided that she was gonna pick up the torch. Still she and her cousin poured through the Boston Bluebook. You know all the top name
in Boston society and noted down every fashionable lady who wore these plumes and instead of writing them scathing letter like give up your plumes. The cousins instead invited these feather wearing Ladys to join the newly formed Massachusetts, Audubon society and by the turn of the century. Several of these state level, Audubon society banded together still keeping that name and consequently, autobahns nay, became synonymous not only with his own work. America, but with american conservation and between these two heavy legacies, though a lot of fat, the fascinating details contradictions about autobahns life kind of got overlooked. For one thing, he was fine living in the woods for weeks to meeting native Americans and fur trappers or teaching planters. and how to dance and play a violin. So you know varied As for a lot of things tat, he was also a real
and your food type, who would obsessed about his hair and he and his wife had this how to love story, but they lived apart for years and while he prided himself on his very accurate drawings here, the left a good tall tale to you. I mean that sort of fits in with the Daniel Boon Persona drank, but he did have all of these different sides of his in reality, going on so over the course of two episodes will be talking about autobahns life, with input from Michael in men, curator of the rear books, division at the new public library on Autobahns technique and the creation of Birds of America. But first we want to kind of introduce you to the contradiction, surprises and adventure that actually started really early on four out of odd. In fact, he wasn't even born John James Bond. Was he in price number one so threw out his life autobahn? We tell all sorts of stories about his birth rates,
When these kinds of things like he was born in Louisiana to a French here of the American Revolution or Maybe he was even a lost heir to the French thrown really out their stories, but the truth was tat. He had been born April. Twenty six, seventeen eighty five as your about to a french ships captain and planter named John Audubon and his french chambermaid mistress in what is today, Haiti and audible mother died just a few months after he was born
she had never really adjusted well to the climate there. But when the haitian Revolution started, brewing, Audubon Senior sold off as much of his plantation land as they could and squirreled John and his half sister rose out of the country and back to France in seventeen. Ninety one get them out before the revolution happened and to avoid complications too, from roses, mother being mixed, Wraith, John out of on pretended that both kid had the same French born mother. So, though for lies about the kids
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Pad designed exclusively to work together. As a system, bona hardwood for cleaner is available at most retailers, wherefore cleaning products are sold on Amazon and at bona dot com. Though, available for your other hard surface floors like stone, tile, laminate, vinyl, an elevator ye for cleaning tips and exclusive offers visit, bona dot com, slash bona clean. Once they were back home genes, wife and welcome the kids with open arms, and raise them ass, her own when the terror reach them in seventeen. Ninety free and threaten their lives and their property. They tried to secure gene and roses inheritance by officially adopting them soldier rebound became Jean Jacques or fresh air. AIR actually means fern, and they chose that name to handle. The revolutionary authorities, who didn't like faint needs, isn't like the name regional shock for how so
for the tear, the autobahns relocated to a country house where Jean Jacques learned birds, names from his father and a family friend, instructed him and Taxidermy in anatomy. He explored the marshes of Luar also, but at eighteen with the possibility, of conscription into Napoleon's army? Jean Jacques was packed off to America by his father, though Autobahn senior owned Two hundred and eighty four acre farm called Mill Grove outside of Philadelphia, where one of his tenants had recently discovered a vein of lead. So John Audubon hoped that his son might go there check this discovery and be able to manage the farm and make them money on its own to because the family fortune said obviously taken ahead between the Haitian and the french revolution, but
John James, with not that great running a large farm. He was more interested in pretty much everything else. You could be interested and he loved clothes dancing, music socializing. He was incredibly popular with his friends and neighbors. He was considered quite handsome. According to PBS one of his Pennsylvania neighbours wrote quote a handsomer man I never saw, but he also really love being outside too and watching birds and will Bakewell who was autobahns. Future brother in law gave a really it sure of Audubon natural history, loving life at this time. On entering his room, I was astonished and delighted to find it was turned into a museum. The walls were festooned with all kinds of birds, eggs, carefully, blown out and strong on a thread. The chimney piece was covered with stuff squirrels
foods and apostemes, and the shelves around were likewise crowded with specimens among which were fishes frog, snakes, lizards and other reptiles. Precisely stuff priorities. Many paintings, where a raid on the walls chiefly of birds. He was an admirable marksman and expert swimmer, a clever rider and was notable for the elegance of this figure and the beauty of his features. Besides other accomplishments, he was musical a good friend, Sir danced well and have some acquaintance with legerdemain tricks worked hair and could plate Willow basket, sold. Multi talent, you visit work and hair to manage the farm, but out of on soon fell in love with his neighbors daughter, leafy Bakewell, who actually came from the Erasmus Darwin family am. He was Charles was correct:
father and she was a really talented. Lady till she was an avid rider. She read a lot was a pianist so Lucy and out married and thought that farm and moved on to Louisville Kentucky wear out upon opened up a general store. really revelled in all of these hunting and drawing opportunities that were suddenly available to him in what was basically a frontier town at the time are pretty close to a frontier towns, though Autobahn had been sketching birds for years and years. But at this point his studies really began in earnest. He wasn't a great illustrator, thou yeah and according to their PBS documentary on Audubon, drawn from nature, he even call his flat looking birds
quote crippled. Can we had some improvements to make so the first thing we wanted to ask Michael Inman about where these early drawings and hears what he had to say. His early work was far more traditional, hee hee, initially modeled himself on several the other leading ornithologists of of that time, and in particular there is a german and english ornithologist Mark Catesby, who had produced a book called the natural history. The Carolinas Florida and Bahama Islands and in Catesby was probably the first ornithologist. You really foe on a certainly North America and and Audubon, was familiar with his work and the work of others in its early work did sort of fall into that vein of being rather static entered
so it was only serve later, especially after he he met and ornithologist named Alexander Wilson, who it was in the process of publishing a book called American Ornithology and Wilson. He D had a chance meeting with walls, and Wilson was traveling selling subscriptions to his work. He met Wilson and viewed as work and was very impressed with it, but after Wilson left a friend and colleague of Ottawa and said to him, you know your work is much much better and lifelike than Wilson's is, and I think it was from that moment on. He really saw tat. He had some unique, give to really depict birds and a life like manner
began, I think from that from that point on really pushing the envelope as far as how the boot birds could be depicted. The future is closer than you think, and it all starts in the palm of your hand. You may have heard the news five g is coming, but what does that really mean? How like me in this new. I hot series this time tomorrow, presented by team above a business, join me as well Ocean and my co host Kara price, as we will you through the true revolution, immobility that will check The way we interact with the world around us from environmental science to law enforcement, entertainment, healthcare and travel innovation is coming. join us as we explore how this revolution could impact your life? And here, just how close we are getting to a more connected future full of possibilities in the age, Five g, this time tomorrow, presented by team above a business, is now avail
on the Iheart radio up or wherever you listen to broadcasts I just realized that the first letter of every line of this region and spells help me it seems like everyone's a critic, these days blessing the world our slightest opinions on our own many platforms, I'm scared limits, and I'm very calmly this family. tenth gums. Citizen critic abide CAS where we predict the credit. And review the reviews of every from movies, music and television to toasters, toiletries and paint. Colors will hear from the experts. Here, is my review. Cognizant heartlessness are undermining today's spend some of these the and don't go zero starts, as well as from all the citizen critics out there. So we loved areas. It's here, because I read other views beforehand and did not stay eat, dinner or officially toward here five stars. Listen to citizen critic on the eye. Radio, F, apple pie guests,
Ever you get your bike guests not long after this chance meeting with Alexander Wilson Audubon, Lucy and their growing family relocated. even more remote Henderson Kentucky too general store there, and they seemed like one of the happiest periods in autobahns life. He Lucy would swim across the Ohio River and back warning exercise and she would garden and keep an elegant home filled with her families antiques from England. His business partner would run the store and Audubon himself Woodstock the store and hunt for provisions, and this is, So when he honed the technique that allowed him to recreate birds. So realistically, on the page, a lot of bird love as though we'll just say up front are horrified when they learn that to do this, Autobahn had to kill the birds. Liddy drew he'd had out with a shot gun, bag
The EU is interested in and then immediately ready for, sketching and Michael told us a little more about autobahn system in doing this and how he he sketch them was rather innovative for the time he devised a system of of wires and in boards and so forth, basically alone contraption, where he could then rigged. The birds up in in the lifelike poses that he had observed when he was out in the woods, were swamps or wherever he may have done, and he would then sketch them in these very lifelike dynamic poses, which is something that really had not been done until that time until he began doing that. Generally, the artists, the ornithologists who were sketching birds or depicting birds in books up until that point, tended to depict a very thorough static
Hers is in profile or you certainly not with any sort of dynamic aspect or motion implied in the artwork Audubon, really wanted to capture that beyond the birds as they had appeared to him when he was observing them. So he he did work out the system where he could attach wires and manipulate the bird so that, even though they were dead at that time, they still appeared very lifelike to him. If he was then working on his water colours to to depict them, he did run up against the problem, though, in certain cases, especially when he was in very hot climate, such as the Delors Mississippi Valley, that somebody specimens would begin to decompose rather quickly, so had to be very quick. Gonna go out, shoot the birds get back to wherever it was. It was his home base and very quickly draw them or paint them before they began to soar wrought before his eyes. So it was a very serve hurried process and he was constantly on the move,
very much driven to depict these birds as as in as life like a manner as possible. So when you look at autobahns images, it's easy to see how these gritted pond and freshly dead birds offered a whole lot more over the traditional technique of the time which leads to kill a bird skin. It preserves the scan with Nick and then stop it with robe and then finally illustrated that in autumn on new that not only could he position them in more lifelike ways when they were freshly dead, but he knew that the color of a birds feathers would start to change within just twenty four hours of its death. It's worth noting too, though, that he didn't waste anything. He didn't draw these birds and then just tossed them aside. According to Richard Roads in Smithsonian magazine after he was done, sketching in supposing the bird wasn't decomposing too badly is Michael Mention,
upon within days. Any would take very careful, anatomical, no gun what he saw in the because he was often out the wilderness and didn't have anything else to eat. He would eat. Word and described its taste in his skill journals, and these are all things that eventually became part of his work officially, though Audubon was still a business man, not an illustrator for his career, but after the panic of eighteen nineteen, his businesses, which This point included a mill also in addition to the general store they started to turn south, so he was desperate for cash, and so at this point he tried to call him alone to Samuel Bowen Button, one wouldn't pay up and started a kind of an argument between the two in which Bowen attacked Audubon, hitting him several. Times before Audubon stabbed, though in and ultimately injured him, he was found nothing
to have this assault but ended up being put into the wilful jail for debt, were he declared bankruptcy and ended up seen all possession sold off, including Lucy's heirlooms, seeking imagine how that would have been further family at that time. Even Audubon. Precious paintings were put up for sale, but nobody wanted them. So he ended up getting to keep our gently. He was able to keep those but to add to their travels bankruptcy and all of that out of all who had to help these times lost to baby girls at this time, and it was clearly time for a career change at this point out upon with not cut out to be a business man, and so he decided to go to work for a museum in Cincinnati kind of similar
one that we discussed in me Peaty Barnum, apathetic liquor, curiosity museum filled with a jumble of natural history and cultural history item than at the museum in Cincinnati Autobahn, practiced his taxidermy and was really encouraged in his art to encouraged in this project. He had started working on serve unwittingly so in eighteen, twenty frustrated by not getting realer paychecks from his museum job, but feeling pretty inspired, nevertheless, He and one of his drawing students, Joseph Mason, set out for New Orleans, and you didn't have much money again. Those paychecks weren't coming through, though he bartered their boat passage in exchange for his hunting skills and made it down to New Orleans so Audubon had a new goal, and that was to paint every bird and America life size,
eighteen, twenty one Lucy in the kids joined him down in New Orleans and he paint portraits and teach planters, kids how to dance fence arrived, and she opened up a school of deportment and p his artistic style also continued to evolve. During this period, he has painting started to include more act and the scenes were more like the tab low that he helped created. This is not a museum which meant that they had realistic backgrounds and featured natural habitat, not just a bird on a twig essential. His work was mostly done in water color, but he'd also outline feather edges and hence also the pieces would really glint like actual birds, and all of this drawing obviously meant more travel too. He was, after all, trying to paint the birds of America, even though Louisiana was obviously filled with buried, though required a lot of roaming, and we asked Michael's come about how
I knew what to look for and where to go, because I think that was wet. Fascinated me most about this project. How'd, you know what you're gonna do is what he had to say, or out of on was something of an auto died act. He taught himself about ornithology. He, as I said, he was familiar with the work of others and ordered all just about time, so he had a fairly good handle on the various species that were then known, and what their habitat was the range of their habitat, but he also had a very keen eye and was able to discern new species once it had not yet been recorded. As so, he tried to cover as much territory literally geographically as possible, and so he he moved from the southern swamps of wheezy ETA. He traveled throughout the South Eastern United States Florida, the Carolinas up to
Maritime Canada, the coast there Newfoundland and along the higher Bally trying to capture birds in many different geographic areas of the country as possible, and he was very successful at that. He again, if I had a number of new species on occasion he misidentified species. Sometimes he thought he had it in a fight newspeak, a new type of bird, when, in fact it was something that was already known- that in any case he did a debt. If I knew speeches about so by eighteen, twenty four out of on felt like he had enough drawings to actually start publishing, but getting the attack. His work deserve proved a lot more difficult than he expected so next time we're gonna kind of talk about that process. Starting to get his work published and the very different receptions that he received in America and abroad and
how that Daniel Boon Persona of his that we were kind of giggling about before really finally paid off. It proved to be a blessing and occurs foma. Yet there is a lot more to talk about autobahn that'll be next time in the meantime, if you want to finish a no Maybe I'm about your favorite plate from birds of America. Perhaps you could email, I sat history podcast at discovery, dot com. and were also on twitter, it missed in history and one on Facebook, and if you just can't wait, Part two and you want to learn a little bit more about some of the topics related to what we are discussing. Now we have lovely article called how the Audubon society work that was written by our own Farrah, daddy. and you can find it by searching on our website and that's a debit ovida, be done how stuff works, dot com,
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