John James Audubon -- that is, a reasonable facsimile of the famous American artist -- makes a local appearance Saturday as part of the Illinois State Museum's "Bird is the Word" event. Storyteller Brian "Fox" Ellis, who plays the role of Audubon, will regale visitors with stories of the artist's adventures in wild America in the early 19th century. Ellis draws extensively on Audubon's detailed journals and essays for his material.
Saturday's family-oriented event, held in conjunction with the museum's special exhibit of Audubon prints, also will include Illinois artisans creating works with bird themes, experts offering tips on how to attract wild birds, and displays of bird nests, eggs and bones. Representatives of the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis will be on hand with live falcons, hawks, owls and vultures.
The museum recently announced it was extending the run of the Audubon exhibit -- entitled "John James Audubon: The Birds of America, Prints from the Collection of the Illinois State Museum" -- through Feb. 29. Along with the 33 hand-colored etchings and chromolithographs, the museum is showcasing bird specimens from its ornithology collection. The Audubon prints were donated to the museum by the estate of Judge R. Magoon Barnes.
"It took us five years to put this exhibit together," says Kent Smith, museum director of art. "The prints donated by Judge Barnes were kept in storage for many years. Much of the expense of the exhibit comes from the cost of framing the prints." Smith and Doug Stapleton of the state museum's Chicago Gallery are co-curators of the exhibit.
Audubon (1785-1851) completed 435 finished watercolor paintings for his The Birds of America folios. He had an uncanny ability to bring his subjects to life: In one print, a blue jay steals an egg; in another, four mockingbirds and a rattlesnake tangle.
"Bird is the Word" takes place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Illinois State Museum, 501 S. Spring St. Brian "Fox" Ellis performs at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; the raptor program is at 2 p.m. Admission and parking are free.