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Wild Things Exhibit Features Rare Audubon Lithographs of Mammals

Antique prints on display until May 30 at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Audubon’s 19th century work documents North American mammals. Click to view larger
Audubon’s 19th century work documents North American mammals. (Courtesy photo)

Some 30 rare and beautifully hand-colored lithographs of North American mammals by artist and naturalist John James Audubon are on display at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s John and Peggy Maximus Gallery.

The Wild Things exhibit will be open until Memorial Day 2018.

While Audubon received widespread acclaim for his collection on Birds of America, he also produced work on North American mammals, during a time in the 19th century when information was scarce and much of western America wasn't well-known.

Mammals had not been well-documented or illustrated in one publication until Audubon and his co-author, Rev. John Bachman, published the Imperial Folio of Quadrupeds.

Audubon attempted to capture the life and movement of his subjects, using a combination of pencil, chalk, crayon and watercolor.

He then hired a printer in Philadelphia to transfer the images from the preparatory watercolors to lithographic stones for making multiples. Published over three years, from 1845-48, the 150 plates filled three volumes.

“We hope all who visit the exhibit come away with an appreciation for the artistry of this great naturalist,” said Linda Miller, Maximus Gallery curator.

“These antique prints give us a glimpse into history, help us to understand how the sciences developed, and blend art and science in a captivating and beautiful way,” she said.

Admission to the Maximus Gallery is free with paid admission, which is 50 percent off until Dec. 31. The gallery is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, except for New Year’s Day.

Audubon’s prints on display belong to the museum’s collection of more than 3,500 engravings and lithographs, which represent a sampling of European and American natural history illustrations from the 17th-19th centuries.

They were made during an era in which the world’s flora and fauna were being described for the first time.

As European voyages of exploration discovered new lands beyond the boundaries of the known world, naturalists and artists collected and recorded their findings, bringing back vast collections of plants and animals new to science.

Once home, the artist’s drawings were engraved onto copper plates and published for a public eager to see these exotic new discoveries. Engravings and lithographs of birds, plants, fruits, and insects are represented in the museum’s print collection.

Subjects include 19th century lithographs of birds and mammals by Audubon; hummingbirds by John Gould; reptile and amphibian engravings from colonial America by Mark Catesby; and 17th century German botanicals by Basil Besler.

For more information about the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, call 682-4711 or visit

— Andy Silverman for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

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