Dr Schrader views the Audubon prints with several students.

Brenau University Collections: Audubon’s Birds of America

Jun 13, 2019
Claudia Wilburn

Written by Benjamin Barton

Dr. Delano Mixon, who donated a rare anthology titled ‘Birds of America’ by John James Audubon to the Brenau University collection, center, speaks about the books to members of the Gainesville Garden Club inside the Rare Books Room. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Among the treasures housed in the Trustee Library, a particular favorite of the Brenau community is a rare collection of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. The complete four-volume set of Audubon prints published by Abbeville Press was given to Brenau in 1993 by Dr. J. Delano and Caroline Mixon of Flowery Branch, Georgia.

The Audubon Birds of America collection contains 435 full-size reproductions of more than 700 bird species painted by the 19th century naturalist. The limited edition set was published in 1985 by Abbeville Press in conjunction with the National Audubon Society to commemorate the bicentennial of Audubon’s birth. Only 350 copies of this collection were printed, and the Brenau Trustee Library is one of only 18 libraries in the United States to own a complete set.

The edition was produced from the National Audubon Society’s original Havell copy (1827-1838) of the double elephant folio. The term double elephant folio refers to the enormous paper size used for each print, measuring 40.5 by 28 inches. As a result, each of the four volumes weighs over 60 pounds. The volumes are beautifully bound in rich green leather, ornately stamped in gilt and include handmade marbleized endpapers. This edition of Birds of America is noted for its depth of color. Through a process of 13-color offset lithography, the prints reproduce Audubon’s original watercolors with stunning precision and vibrancy.

Dr Schrader looks through the Birds of America prints with Brenau students.

Composition is a notable aspect of Audubon’s work. The artist painted each bird in life-size, providing the viewer an opportunity to see the actual size of a Californian vulture, American flamingo or wild turkey. Audubon sought to present the birds living and moving within their natural habitats, illustrating their surroundings and feeding habits. Each print includes the name of the bird species as well as names of plants shown in the painting. Whenever possible, both the male and female of the species are included. Often, Audubon depicts birds engaged with their natural predators for dramatic effect.

The Mixons made another significant addition to the Audubon collection in 2008, when they presented Brenau with a gift of six companion volumes, published by Abbeville Press in 1985, to accompany the double elephant folio. These volumes include a set of Ornithological Biographies written by Audubon and William MacGillivray in 1838 and a copy of The Double Elephant Folio: The Story of Audubon’s Birds of America written by Waldemar H. Fries in 1973. The reference materials describe in great detail the technical aspects and stories behind every image in the double elephant folio. The companion volumes enhance the learning experience for the casual viewer and provide added value for Audubon researchers.

Located within the Trustee Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections room, the Audubon collection is available for viewing by appointment with Brenau Librarian Benjamin Barton (bbarton@brenau.edu).


Related Event

Graham Arader Arts and Sciences Collaborative Opening Reception

Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 at 6-8 p.m.

Thurmond-McRae Lecture Hall and Trustee Library.

This event will provide students and the community with meaningful connections between artistic works and scientific exploration. The evening will include a presentation of an extensive collection of botanical and aquatic prints and watercolors as well as a short lecture to discuss the artistic value and integration of these pieces into the undergraduate curriculum. Prints and other rare publications, including Brenau’s complete collection of the Abbeville Press double elephant folio of Audubon’s Birds of America, will be made available for the public to view as well as prints from Brenau’s collection of Audubon Ambassador prints. Information: +1-770-534-6263 or galleries.brenau.edu.