Monthly Archives: January 2013

Audubon’s Birds of America, Part 2: The Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey [Great American Cock], Meleagris gallopavo, from Audubon’s Birds of America

Turkeys sure can strut. In fact, the turkey’s signature move has inspired not only its own dance, but its own dance convention. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was really talking turkey when he described how “in his feathered seraglio, Strutted the lordly turkey.” Even the OED confirms it: “walk turkey” means to strut or swagger.

Audubon was an admirer of the wild turkey, and he wrote at length in his Ornithological Biography on their courting practices. Needless to say, he didn’t miss the opportunity to detail their singular strut, and how (along with many an extravagant leap and several purrs on the part of the females) the male turkeys will “strut pompously about, stopping now and then to listen and look…moving with as much celerity as their ideas of ceremony seem to admit.”

Audubon’s Wild Turkey is no exception. Despite his show of practiced nonchalance, the quick glance over his shoulder to see who’s checking him out gives him away: this turkey’s just about hopping on his toes to get down and strut his stuff with the ladies. Just look at him with those pink legs, not to mention his tuck of scarlet under-plumage, ready to boogie! And though he’s yet to raise his tail feathers (he might be saving his strength for one of his irresistible “pulmonic puffs”), his charmingly pompous demeanor is unmistakable.

So, we might ask, what did Audubon do differently from his contemporaries and predecessors, to show off his birds as if in their natural state? In their introduction to Abbeville’s newly rereleased Audubon’s Birds of America, editors Roger Tory Peterson and Virginia Marie Peterson tell the story of the young Audubon’s frustrations using a wooden model and his discovery of a new method:

It was then that he conceived the procedure he was to follow for many years. He wrote: “One morning I leapt out of bed . . . went to the river, took a bath and returning to town inquired for wire of different sizes, bought some and was soon again at Mill Grove. I shot the first Kingfisher I met, pierced the body with wire, fixed it to the board, another wire held the head, smaller ones fixed the feet. . . . There stood before me the real Kingfisher. I outlined the bird, colored it. This was my first drawing actually from nature.”

In addition to using fresh birds as models, Audubon insisted on reproducing his birds fully life-sized on the page, which is why the original engravings were printed as a Double Elephant Folio. Even on such wonderfully spacious sheets, which measure about 26 x 39 inches, the Wild Turkey wouldn’t quite fit, which may explain his striking backward glance.

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Click here to learn more about Audubon’s Birds of America, published by Abbeville press.

Audubon’s Birds of America: The Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron, from Audubon’s Birds of America

John James Audubon has become a household name: we know Audubon the naturalist, the great ornithologist. We know Audubon the painter who redefined American wildlife art. We know Audubon’s legacy, and the conservation efforts he continues to inspire in the generations after his death. We know Audubon the woodsman, the frontiersman, the entrepreneur.

This week at the Abbeville Blog we’re celebrating Audubon and our rerelease of the gorgeous Baby Elephant Folio edition of his masterpiece, Audubon’s Birds of America, which reproduces, in brilliant full color, all 435 original engravings from the rare Double Elephant Folio. In their introduction to this edition, editors Roger Tory Peterson (who was himself a celebrated ornithologist and artist) and Virginia Marie Peterson have illuminated Audubon’s achievements and his role as pioneering naturalist, so that we may understand his work in the context of modern ornithology.

And so what about Audubon the man? If we want to know the man—who trekked through Louisiana swamps, through prairies and woods of the Atlantic coast, and along the banks of the Ohio in search of the birds he would study and preserve in his drawings, the man who told tall tales of hunting with Daniel Boone, the man whose delight is evident in his written recollections, in his “Happy days, and nights of pleasing dreams!”—then we must consult his writings and his art. Nowhere are we so transported into Audubon’s world, his life, than in his engravings, where it is as if through his eyes, and in astonishing detail, we see the wonders of the American wilderness and its communities of birds.

One of our favorites, of course, is the Great Blue Heron, poised to spear an unwary frog or fish, perhaps a perch much like the one Audubon pulled from the belly of one of these grand birds, in an anecdote from his Ornithological Biography in which he recalls:

While on the St. John’s River in East Florida, I shot one of these birds, and on opening it on board, found in its stomach a fine perch quite fresh, but of which the head had been cut off. The fish, when cooked, I found excellent, as did Lieutenant Piercy and my assistant Mr. Ward.

It is strangely delightful indeed to imagine the three men, elbow deep in entrails and half-digested fish, so keen to devour such impromptu dinner fare.

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Click here to learn more about Audubon’s Birds of America, published by Abbeville press.

E-Book Memoirs for 2013!

This week the Abbeville Blog is featuring some of our finest e-book titles for those readers with holiday gift cards to redeem and/or New Year’s resolutions to fulfill (“I will read five Abbeville Press books per month”). Today’s recommendations have a personal touch: they’re two of the outstanding memoirs in our Biography & Literature category.

First up is A Key to the Louvre: Memoirs of a Curator, by art historian, curator, and museum director M. Michel Laclotte. If you’re interested in collection and curation, you’re going to Louvre (sorry, got it out of our system) this charming retrospective on a life’s work in one of the world’s great museums. Laclotte was not only chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Louvre for two decades; he was also part of the team that created the Musée d’Orsay. Makes you stop and think: what have I done for the international art scene lately?

If you’re more into pop than high culture, you’ll be sure to dig on Stories My Father Told Me: Notes from “The Lyons Den”, by movie critic Jeffrey Lyons. Lyons’ dad was the famous New York Post writer Leonard Lyons, whose column “The Lyons Den” was a fixture of celebrity dish in New York City for forty years (1934-74). In this funny, breezy memoir you’ll find tales of Leonard’s hobnobbing with notables from Chaplin and Churchill to Hemingway and Sophia Loren. Mixed in with the old-timey celebrity gossip are selections from son Jeffrey’s interviews with current stars, including George Clooney, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Dame Judi Dench, and Sir Michael Caine.

Two monuments to two lives: one in the art industry, one in entertainment. Perfect for entertaining you this winter, if you can’t make it to Paris or the bar stool beside Hemingway.

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To purchase the A Key to the Louvre e-book, published by Abbeville Press, click here.
To purchase the Stories My Father Told Me e-book, published by Abbeville Press, click here.

Happy New E-Books From Abbeville!

Welcome back, and happy 2013! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season. If you’re like us, you have relatives who know how much you love beautiful books–and just might have been kind enough to give you gift cards for purchases on your e-reader.

In that case, lucky you: Abbeville’s e-book offerings have expanded steadily in recent years. We’ll be spotlighting several of them this week, starting with a pair of history volumes: The Carving of Mount Rushmore and Tara Revisited: Women, War, and the Plantation Legend. Rushmore, by the late Rex Alan Smith (co-author of Abbeville’s Pacific War Stories), is both a visual and an educational feast, presenting the full story behind the hugest sculpture in the world. Tara, by Catherine Clinton, offers a very different kind of historical narrative: the story of Southern women during the Civil War, as revealed through letters, diaries, slave accounts, and other primary sources.

Each captivating in its own way, each complete with striking period photographs, these two books are guaranteed to help see U.S. history buffs through those months when all you want to do is curl up someplace warm and read.

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To purchase the e-book edition of The Carving of Mount Rushmore, click here.

To purchase the e-book edition of Tara Revisited, click here.