Exhibit captures historic, modern bird perspectives

MONMOUTH -- John James Audubon always intended to, but never did make it to the Western United States.

MONMOUTH -- John James Audubon always intended to, but never did make it to the Western United States.

This spring, however, samples of his work are the centerpiece of an exhibit on the second floor of Western Oregon University's Hamersly Library.

"Avian Art: Birds in Image and Word" is a multimedia exhibit running through mid-June on the library's second floor featuring paintings, drawings and poems of and about birds.

Most notable is an original copperplate engraving called the "Cowpen Birds" from Audubon's landmark "Birds of America," which was completed from 1827-1839. The large-format "Double Elephant Folio" print was hand-painted under Audubon's watchful eye.

"This was printed and overseen by the master himself," said WOU associate English professor Henry Hughes, exhibit curator and contributor.

Hughes, a fan of both Audubon's journal writing and his depictions of birds, said Audubon's work was impressively accurate and "alive."

"He was a revolutionary artist," Hughes said. "He painted from life. He knew these birds."

Hughes said similar depictions of Audubon's contemporaries look "flat and dull." He believes Audubon's work benefited from the time he spent observing birds.

"His work was exceptional and people knew it," he said.

The "Cowpen Birds," a recent donation by Alfred Maurice, is accompanied by a collection of smaller prints from Audubon's 1856 Octavo edition of "The Birds of America" and "The Quadrupeds of North America." Wayne and Lynn Hamersly donated the framed 19th-century lithographic prints to the university in 2000.

Hughes said when he found out the university had the prints, he knew that he had to find a way to put them on display. He then called on local artists, fellow professors and students to contribute contemporary art and poems.

The exhibit features paintings by Monmouth artist Richard Bunse, Independence wood engraver Paul Gentry and poetry by Oregon's poet laureate Paulann Petersen.

There's even a video, for those who appreciate our feathered friends more predatory side, of a heron hunting, catching and eating a squirrel. The video accompanied a student poem describing a heron hunting a squirrel.

Hughes, a lifelong bird lover and observer, said he was surprised and delighted by the reception the exhibit has received.

"It's made people more aware of birds," Hughes said.

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