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Episode One: Birds of America at the Hutchins Library

14 years of field observations and drawings by John James Audubon resulted in the monumental work of art entitled The Birds of North America. The original set of prints is referred to as the Double Elephant Folio Edition. It is considered by many to be the archetype of wildlife illustration.

John James Audubon was an artist and a naturalist. When he was 35 years old, he declared his intent to paint every bird in North America. There are 435 life-sized prints, including six birds that are now extinct less than 200 years after Audubon painted them. This collection of paintings will serve as an ornithological history of North America, as more birds fall prey to extinction.

In 1971, the first ever completed facsimile was published with a limited run of only 250 full sets of books. These prints are known as the Amsterdam Edition of the Double Elephant folio. Berea College is home to set number 63, and we are honored to house this treasure at the Hutchins Library thanks to a generous gift from Ross W. Sloniker and the E.O. Mountain Fund. Only 48 sets are on public display in the United States.

The book collection is quite unique in that the books measure 2’ x 3’ and weigh nearly 60 pounds each. The book is as large as it is because Audubon wanted to paint the birds realistically in their natural habitat. Even at 2’ x 3’, not every bird fits completely on the page, but his immaculate attention to detail provides the viewer with a sense of the bird’s massive stature.

Berea College’s Hutchins Library is the perfect home for a set of the Audubon books. With Kentucky’s vast and various landscapes, from rolling hills to majestic mountains, the state is home to or a vacation spot for almost 400 different species of birds. Berea College’s 9000 acres of forestland are a birder’s paradise. Regardless of whether you are a weekend birder or a more serious bird watcher, we invite you to visit the Hutchins Library on the Berea College campus and enjoy the beautiful birds of the Audubon series of books. While you are here, we hope you’ll meander through our forests and see some of our amazing birds for yourself.

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