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World’s largest collection of Audubon art and artifacts

Photo: Kentucky Dept. of Tourism
Photo: Kentucky Dept. of Tourism
Photo: Kentucky Dept. of Tourism
Photo: Kentucky Dept. of Tourism
Photo: Kentucky Dept. of Tourism

Among the 1,200 or so items in the Audubon Memorial Museum at the John James Audubon State Park are artifacts, works of art, and archival material (manuscripts, photographs, letters, business ledgers) from the life of the famed ornithologist, naturalist, and painter, and his family.

Constructed nearly 80 years ago in 1938, the park includes gardens, trails, picnic areas, a lake, and the museum, impressive with its observation windows, cobbled courtyard, and round tower, designed to give Audubon’s beloved birds a nesting place.

Visitors from across the United States and around the world come to the museum to see such treasured rarities as a complete four-volume set of Audubon’s double elephant folio edition of The Birds of America—one of only 120 or so complete sets in existence; a watercolor, “Ruby-throated Hummingbird,” painted by Audubon circa 1821; and two copper plates engraved by Robert Havell Jr., Audubon’s engraver for The Birds of America project.

“Only about 79 of the original 435 plates made for The Birds of America exist,” notes museum curator Jennifer Spence, adding that, at this time, it is the American Bittern plate that is on display in the museum. “The others are believed to have been melted down for scrap metal after Audubon’s death.”

The newest addition to the museum is an oil painting, “Miss Audubon,” on loan from the Friends of Audubon, a nonprofit organization dedicated  to Audubon State Park. According to Spence, the work is attributed to John James Audubon and is of his daughter, Lucy (1815-1817), who died in Henderson.

“The painting is a post-mortem portrait done about 1820,” says Spence. “The Friends of Audubon purchased it at auction in October 2016, and we installed it in the exhibit on November 6, 2016. Very few oil portraits by Audubon are in museum collections, making this piece very special to us.”

Audubon died in 1851, having spent most of his life studying and drawing birds, distinctive for their dramatic and lifelike qualities, and immersing himself in the natural world.

“John James Audubon never gave up his lifelong dream to paint every bird in America, despite harsh criticism and many obstacles,” says Spence. “His story is one of adventure, love, hard work, and determination. He serves as an inspiration to all that one should never lose heart in their dreams.”

Don’t miss March Madness, through April 9, an invitational exhibit featuring area artists and their works for sale. Visitors will find works in oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, pen and ink, and mixed media. The 24th annual juried exhibit, A Fresh Perspective, April 18–June 30, features the original art of the Henderson Society of Art in all mediums except photography.

For more information: John James Audubon State Park, 3100 U.S. Highway 41 North, Henderson; (270) 826-2247, http://parks.ky.gov/parks/recreationparks/john-james/.

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