A new exhibit featuring 20 original nineteenth-century, hand-colored lithographs of exotic hummingbirds opens at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Friday, May 6 and runs through Sept. 5.
Lining the walls of the Museum’s Maximus Gallery, the exhibit’s 20 lithographs represent a sample of 360 plates by the British ornithologist and publisher John Gould. Part of his five-volume monograph “The Family of Hummingbirds” (1849–61), the intricate, colorful antique prints represent the definitive reference for these “living gems” during the Victorian era.
As a trained taxidermist, Gould did not see a living hummingbird until a decade through creating his monograph. However, he was able to study taxidermy specimens and developed a technique to capture the reflective iridescence of hummingbird feathers.
After a trip to the U.S., he was finally able to observe these unique birds’ blurry, dynamic wings in real life. Nevertheless, Gould continued to publish illustrations with birds in poses that evoked his romantic dreams more than their bumblebee-like physicality.
The exhibit counterbalances these mythic gems with high-speed photography and the zipping sounds of living birds.
“Hummingbirds have captivated gardeners and bird watchers alike for their delicate beauty and avian maneuvers,” said Linda Miller, Maximus Gallery curator, who has been waiting to share this exhibit since 2020.
Native to the Western Hemisphere, there are more than 320 species of hummingbirds, mostly found in Central and South America. Of the 17 species found in North America, only six are routinely found on the Central Coast. Prints of two of these six will be on display as new museum acquisitions: The black-chinned and Costa’s hummingbirds.
The summer exhibit is included in museum admission. To learn more, visit sbnature.org/hummingbirds. For more about the museum, visit sbnature.org.