Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: "America's Other Audubon"

Joy Kiser's America's Other Audubon (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012) reprints the sixty-eight lithographs which originally appeared in Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of the Birds of Ohio, a remarkable work created by the Jones family of Circleville, Ohio. After seeing Audubon's Birds of America on display at Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, amateur naturalist Genevieve Jones undertook to create a companion work that would display the nests and eggs of all birds which nested in Ohio. Her father funded the publication (partly by selling subscriptions), her brother collected the nests and wrote descriptions of them, while Genevieve and a friend drew the images and colored the lithographs.

Genevieve died after she'd completed just five of the projected 130 illustrations, leaving the project very much in doubt. But her family threw themselves into the work and completed the book: her mother even taught herself to draw the detailed nests! The original publication is quite rare today, which makes this volume even more useful. Kiser provides an introduction giving background on the Jones family and the project, and then reprints all sixty-eight lithographic plates as well as excerpts from the textual captions and the field notes provided.

The reproductions are quite well done, and the volume is beautifully designed. I know it's a bit greedy to want more from a lovely book, but I did wish there was more information on the subscribers, and I wouldn't have minded longer excerpts from the original text, either. But those are tiny quibbles. I'm glad this book was published: it tells a great story of a family's very impressive work, and will, I hope bring these rare illustrations to the attention of a much wider audience.

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