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200 Years Ago – John James Audubon’s Birds of America

Two hundred years ago in the summer of 1821, John James Audubon arrived in what is now St. Francisville, Louisiana, to work as a teacher for young Eliza Pirrie at the Oakley Plantation. During his four months at Oakley Audubon drew and painted more than thirty of the artworks that became the Birds of America. This time was crucial to the maturation of his vision for his finest work, as well as for his family’s wellbeing.
Dr. John Miles, Curator of Books at LSU Libraries Special Collections, says, “One of LSU’s greatest treasures is its complete, original bound edition of Audubon’s Birds of America. Purchased almost sixty years ago with a grant from the Crown Zellerbach Foundation, these volumes recognize the University’s commitment not only to Audubon’s art
but also to his unparalleled scientific achievement, as well as a commitment to stewardship of the environment with which Audubon would no doubt sympathize, even if he might not have recognized it during his lifetime. More than simply a prized possession, LSU’s copy of Birds of America is emblematic of the transformative nature of human achievement.”
In 2008, in celebration of the publication of Danny Heitman’s A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House (LSU Press), LSU Libraries Special Collections presented the exhibition Audubon at Oakley featuring drawings, manuscripts, proofs, and prints by John James Audubon, curated by Elaine Smyth, Head of Special Collections. The digital exhibition presented here includes those items remastered in digital form, alongside excerpts from Ornithological Biography, and text from the later octavo edition of Birds of America. While a sorry substitute for viewing Audubon’s work in person, this digital exhibition allows you to take Birds of America outside on your mobile device, allowing you to view in nature that which was “drawn from nature.”
Please visit the digital exhibition here:


Image credits: Courtesy National Audubon Society
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Randy Harelson, President (Louisiana) Randy Harelson was born in Macon, GA to parents whose families both came from East Baton Rouge Parish, LA, for many generations. The family moved back to Louisiana when Randy was seven, but always called him their “Georgia peach.” Educated at LSU Lab School and Louisiana State University, Randy moved to Massachusetts in 1974 to teach art in an innovative “integrated arts in education” program in Attleboro Public Schools. A gardener since childhood, he worked at Hill-Roberts Elementary School to develop an “outdoor classroom” of trees, shrubs, and flowers while a full-time art teacher. He later served as a professional designer and assistant horticulturist at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum in Bristol, Rhode Island. Randy’s broad career has included writing and illustrating nine published books, and running a retail nursery in Seagrove Beach, Florida that won the S. J. Blakely Award in 2003. Back home in New Roads, Randy has planted a small arboretum of trees and shrubs both native and imported, documented in Louisiana by 1860. Randy first attended a SGHS annual meeting at Mount Vernon in 2010. The next year his home was included in the Sunday tours at the Baton Rouge meeting. Randy and his husband Richard Gibbs, an architect and gardener, have been members ever since, and Randy joined the board of directors in 2015. At home they care for two acres of gardens, a 500-year-old live oak, the 200-year-old LeJeune House, and a Siamese cat named Miss Priss.
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