Behind The Scenes

Audubon’s Work Becomes Feathering For Rats Nests

Unidentified Japanese Meiji artist, Audubon Opening His Box of Watercolors Destroyed by Norway Rats, 1872–77. Ukiyo–e woodblock print on paper. Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, Bella Landauer Collection

Our current exhibition Audubon’s Aviary: Part 1 of the Complete Flock is now open, and everyone is loving the collection of original watercolors displayed throughout the second floor. But did you know that the exhibition also features some lesser-known Auduboniana?

One of our favorites is this Meiji Period (approximately 1868-1912) woodcut depicting John James Audubon. Audubon was very popular in Japan, a country with a long history of depicting nature and wildlife in art.  In Audubon’s Ornithological Biography, he recounts that in 1812 he was in Philadelphia on one of his “rambles.” While he was gone, rats got into a box with at least two hundred sheets of his work, which depicted “nearly a thousand inhabitants of the air,” and shredded them all for their nests!

Other items on display display include a coin purse that Audubon’s wife, Lucy Blakewell Audubon, made for him; Audubon’s journal entries; and many of his early pastel works. So early, in fact, that his notes were still written in French! The exhibition only runs through May 19, so check it out soon.

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