Audubon in the Anthropocene: Works by Matthew Day Jackson


Audubon in the Anthropocene highlights a portfolio of prints by contemporary artist Matthew Day Jackson titled There Will Come Soft Rains. In this portfolio, Jackson dramatically reworks a late edition of etchings from John James Audubon's iconic series The Birds of America. Each Audubon bird rests amidst potential apocalyptic settings interpreted by Jackson, often referencing final scenarios of the Anthropocene.

Scholars have proposed the ''Anthropocene'' as a term for our current geological period, characterized by the significance of human intervention in our ecosphere. Although the term has not been formally adopted by the geologic community, interest in and debate about the Anthropocene coincides with scholarly discussions concerning Earth, its life, and our collective future.

Audubon in the Anthropocene explores the intertwined relationship between birds and humans since the publication of The Birds of America in 1827, as well as what may become of these birds, humans, and Earth itself.

This virtual presentation of the exhibition includes short audio clips from Curator Kate Meyer, links to Audubon's original illustrations that inspired Jackson, related readings, and other interactive elements for you to explore.

Audubon in the Anthropocene

Audubon in the Anthropocene highlights a portfolio of prints by contemporary artist Matthew Day Jackson titled There Will Come Soft Rains. In this portfolio, Jackson dramatically reworks a late edition of etchings from John James Audubon's iconic series The Birds of America. Each Audubon bird rests amidst potential apocalyptic settings interpreted by Jackson, often referencing final scenarios of the Anthropocene.

Scholars have proposed the ''Anthropocene'' as a term for our current geological period, characterized by the significance of human intervention in our ecosphere. Although the term has not been formally adopted by the geologic community, interest in and debate about the Anthropocene coincides with scholarly discussions concerning Earth, its life, and our collective future.

Audubon in the Anthropocene explores the intertwined relationship between birds and humans since the publication of The Birds of America in 1827, as well as what may become of these birds, humans, and Earth itself.

This virtual presentation of the exhibition includes short audio clips from Curator Kate Meyer, links to Audubon's original illustrations that inspired Jackson, related readings, and other interactive elements for you to explore.


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

colophon, 2015–2016,
photogravure
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.01

This title page, or colophon, for There Will Come Soft Rains details the sources and concepts that Jackson brings to each of the twelve representations of birds originally painted by John James Audubon in order to achieve a new artistic statement. These sources include a poem of the same name by Sara Teasdale and allusions to twelve different apocalyptic scenarios that would bring about an end to Earth as we know it. The notion of an end of days is part of all major religions, has been a preoccupation of humans for most, if not all, of human history, and has become a powerful motivator to anyone concerned by climate change.

Perhaps Jackson’s correlation of these birds with apocalyptic scenarios is ultimately inspired by the art itself. Out of the more than 400 North American birds identified by Audubon in The Birds of America, a comparatively small number are now extinct. And yet, three of the twelve species highlighted in this particular set of Audubon reproductions are now either extinct or potentially extinct. The high extinction rate among this small selection naturally promotes associations with mortality and the intertwined fates of birds and humans who share this fragile ecosphere.
 

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This print is the answer key to Matthew Day Jackson’s portfolio There Will Come Soft Rains. Here he tells you which potential apocalyptic scenario he is thinking about in relationship to each print in the series, and what he thinks about that scenario itself.


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, 2016-2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.02

In 1829, Audubon described wild turkeys as abundant in the unsettled interior states such as Ohio and Indiana, but quite rare in the settled, eastern states. Across the United States, turkey populations declined into the 20th century due to over-hunting and habitat loss. Today, turkeys are comparatively abundant in states like Kansas because of their deliberate reintroduction throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Jackson pairs the wild turkey and first line of Sara Teasdale’s poem with images of the sea level rise associated with global warming. This turkey’s large size and long legs makes Jackson’s introduction of flooding water to the composition easily visible and disconcerting.

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I love seeing turkeys in the wild and had no idea they were reintroduced to our area in the 1960s. In Kansas, the Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism monitors turkey populations and regulates turkey hunting. The Department even has a Wild Turkey Committee! All this regulation reminds me that wildlife is a little less wild than we might think.


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

And swallows circling with their shimmering sound, 2015–2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.03

Cedar waxwings are an abundant species of bird that eat cedar cones, fruits, and insects. Since the 1960s, some cedar waxwings have developed a new orange coloration at the tip of their tails caused by their consumption of berries from an introduced species of honeysuckle. Jackson pairs the cedar waxwing with the prospect of a catastrophic asteroid impact. Approximately 66 million years ago, an asteroid struck Earth in today’s Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and created such a sweeping global change in climate that about 75% of the planet’s plants and animals, including dinosaurs, became extinct.

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I am obsessed with collective nouns, or special words for groups of animals, and birds get the best ones. You might see a murder of crows, a flamboyance of flamingos, or a murmuration of starlings. But the waxwing has the best collective noun for this exhibition. A group of waxwings is called a museum.


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

And frogs in the pools, singing at night, 2015–2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.04

Jackson situates a view of an amusement park in the abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine, in the distance behind Audubon’s mallards. Pripyat was evacuated in the wake of the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986. Mallard ducks are a highly adaptable species and would likely be found near a marsh or stream at this distance from a city like Pripyat, just as Jackson depicts them. Since the Chernobyl disaster, scientists have documented evidence of genetic changes and elevated mutation rates in mammals contaminated by radiation. Somewhat ironically, after more than thirty years without human interference in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, Ukrainian scientists now find wildlife populations have rebounded and are thriving.

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When researching this print and thinking about the effects industrial pollution can have on plants and animals, I was surprised to learn that since Chernobyl’s exclusion zone is unsafe for humans, it has become something of a nature preserve. This makes me think of recent news that wildlife is absolutely thriving in our national parks while we are staying at home. If you’re looking for a bright side right now, this seems like a good one to me.


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

And wild plum trees in tremulous white, 2015–2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.05

In Jackson’s imagined death of the sun, the familiar crimson feathers of the northern cardinal have been rendered in more subdued, warm tones as two of the birds bask in the intense light and heat of the sun as it becomes a red giant near the end of its lifecycle as a star. The cardinal is a territorial bird, and Jackson perhaps implies that these creatures will put up a good fight against a catastrophic event that is several billion years away.

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In this exhibition, you can compare Jackson’s interpretation of cardinals to Audubon’s cardinals from the Birds of America and to a cardinal specimen. Jackson’s cardinal is much less vibrantly red than either other example, but he is also reinterpreting the cardinal’s environment as the red glow of our sun, billions of years from now, as it grows so large it may engulf the earth entirely. Maybe it’s the “billions of years away” aspect of this scenario, or the tranquility of these cardinals, but the death of the sun is an apocalypse worth rooting for to me.


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

Robins will wear their feathery fire, 2015-2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.06

Jackson pairs this pandemonium of parrots, the most populous depiction of birds in this subset of Audubon’s Birds of America, with a ghostly skull, evoking the threat of overpopulation. Although their coloring here is not indicative of their green bodies, yellow heads, and red-orange faces, these are Carolina parakeets, a bird that is now extinct. Scientists speculate their crowd mentality likely played some role in their extinction. Audubon describes how these birds would decimate fruit crops in their pursuit of seeds, making them an enemy to gardeners and growers. The birds possessed an unfortunate flocking behavior, returning to the location of a recent hunter’s blast, enabling their slaughter in mass numbers.

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In this exhibition, you can compare Jackson’s unique coloration of Carolina parakeets to Audubon’s example from the Birds of America and to a specimen of the now-extinct bird collected in 1893. The apocalyptic scenario Jackson references in this print is overpopulation, and I want to shout out our tours coordinator, Neal Long, who noticed that there is a large skull looming through the background of this image. 


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire, 2015–2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.07

Perhaps Jackson’s most scornful apocalyptic possibility is his suggestion that humans may simply become too stupid to sustain our planet. One way this occurs, Jackson argues, is through the messages we learn from cartoons that oversimplify our understanding of the natural world, and assign human characteristics, motivations, and behaviors to animals. In the foreground of a fiery evocation of the Disney film Bambi are two blue jays, birds known for their noisy chatter and aggressive behavior, but also their intelligence and curiosity.

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One way I researched this exhibition was to show these prints to Town Peterson and Mark Robbins from KU’s Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. Town and Mark told me that Audubon depicts these blue jays stealing eggs from some other songbird. Audubon described the jays as rogues or thieves, which seems to be just the sort of anthropomorphism Jackson is warning us about in this image.


What is an “Audubon?”

John James Audubon was an artist and naturalist best known for creating an extravagant set of prints depicting North American birds at life size in naturalistic poses and habitats titled The Birds of America. Audubon killed, collected, posed, and painted most of the birds depicted in the series, and then an artist named Robert Havell Jr. copied and translated his paintings to become etchings. These prints were hand-painted in watercolor and published between 1827 and 1838. This edition is popularly known as the Havell Edition or the Double Elephant Folio because of the large size of each printed sheet.

The Havell Edition Birds of America was so prized yet also often prohibitively large and expensive that many subsequent editions have been created. By the 1840s, lithography had replaced etching as the most marketable printmaking technology. To create the Royal Octavo Edition included in this exhibition—so named because the leaves are about an eighth the size of a full sheet of paper—Audubon’s son John Woodhouse Audubon reduced the Havell prints to the desired scale to produce a tracing that was then adapted for lithography by John T. Bowen. These lithographs were also hand-colored, often by women.

The Bien Edition is another full-sized recreation of Audubon’s paintings, this time executed in chromolithography by Julius Bien and published between 1858 and 1860. This edition was never finished, partly due to the outbreak of the American Civil War, and is rarer than the Havell Edition. A print of Audubon’s wood duck from the Bien Edition is included in this exhibition.

Editions of Birds of America continue to be produced, but by the 20th century, the prints were made through photomechanical and digital reproduction methods. Matthew Day Jackson made use of one such set of reproductive prints to create his series, There Will Come Soft Rains. Audubon’s original paintings and sketches are now in the collection of the New York Historical Society.
 


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

And not one will know of the war, not one, 2015–2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.08

When Sara Teasdale wrote “There Will Come Soft Rains,” the war she referenced was World War I, a conflict of apocalyptic magnitude and horror. The disastrous potential of war has only magnified since humans produced nuclear weapons during World War II. Distressingly, Jackson rhymes Audubon’s memorable composition and the flamingo’s bright pink coloration with the horrifying silhouette of a nuclear fireball, implying that the outcomes of nuclear war will be impossible to ignore.

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The flamingo is one of Audubon’s most celebrated compositions from his Birds of America series. His decision to illustrate this flamingo with its neck bent toward the water allowed him to depict the large bird at life size within the rectangular picture plane available to him. Fun fact: flamingos are pink because of a dye found in the shrimp and algae they eat!


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

Will care at last when it is done, 2015-2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.09

By the late 19th century, the population of snowy egrets had become dangerously low because their feathers were highly sought as decorations for women’s hats. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918—one of the first environmental laws passed in the United States—has protected the birds and caused their population to rebound. For this species, whose survival has been linked with the tastes of society, Jackson considers the potential for social collapse to overturn laws, economies, and other systems as we know them. As the snowy egret has more recently been valued by humans as a living creature rather than a commodity, Jackson speculates that a new society emerging from the collapse of our present system will learn from the past to become more humane.
 

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The commentary Audubon provides in his Ornithological Biography sometimes reveals more about Audubon than about the birds he studied. In his description of snowy egrets, he tells readers that “When seized, they peck at you with great spirit, and are capable of inflicting a severe wound.” Folks, please learn from Audubon’s example and refrain from seizing snowy egrets. It’s for your own safety.


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, 2015–2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.10

Passenger pigeons were once the most abundant bird species in North America, and yet humans hunted them to extinction near the beginning of the 20th century. Audubon recounts both the astonishing quantity of pigeons he observed in 1813, so many as to blot out the sun, and the volume of birds shot and eaten, enough to feed the local population for days.

Jackson places the passenger pigeons before a Tower of Silence, a place where—according to the religion Zoroastrianism—unclean dead bodies are placed so that scavenging birds and sunlight can purify them. Jackson’s reference to Towers of Silence evokes the prospect of divine intervention as apocalypse, but the end of days has already come for the passenger pigeon.
 

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Audubon wrote the prologue to tragic tale of the passenger pigeon in 1813 when he described the bird as being abundant almost beyond our imagination. The climax of the story occurred about 100 years later in 1914 when the last passenger pigeon died in captivity. Now, 200 years after Audubon described this bird, Jackson’s series bookends the story. We’ve been without passenger pigeons for as long as it took humans to wipe them all out.


How Are These Prints Made?

Matthew Day Jackson’s prints and the first edition of Audubon’s Birds of America are prints created using intaglio (pronounced in-TAL-ee-oh) techniques. The word intaglio comes from the Italian intagliare, “to engrave,” and is an umbrella term for any printmaking technique in which an image is carved into a printmaking matrix, usually a metal plate. The most common intaglio techniques used in Jackson’s prints are etching and aquatint.

To make an etching, an artist coats a metal plate with an acid-resistant ground through which they scratch a design with a stylus or needle, revealing the bare metal below. This plate is then immersed in an acid bath that etches the exposed lines into the plate. The ground is removed from the plate, ink is pushed into the etched lines, the surface of the plate is cleaned, and the plate is printed in a press.

To make an aquatint, an artist creates areas of tone by using a powdered resin that is sprinkled on the etching plate before being bitten by an etching acid. The result is a finely textured tonal area whose darkness is determined by how long the plate is in contact with the acid.

Jackson and master printer Christopher Creyts created each print in There Will Come Soft Rains by combining one of the plates reproducing an Audubon bird—printed in black ink—with three other plates containing an astonishing variety of intaglio techniques, each of which is printed with cyan, magenta, or yellow ink. The four plates are carefully aligned and printed on a single sheet of paper. 

The Royal Octavo and Bien Editions of Audubon’s Birds of America included in this exhibition were created using lithographic techniques. Lithography is a printing technique in which an image is drawn on a very flat slab of limestone—or a specially treated metal plate—with a greasy substance. This stone is treated chemically so that ink  rolled on to the stone adheres only where the greasy marks were made. This inked image can then be transferred to a piece of paper using a press. The large Bien Edition print was created using chromolithography, a technique popular in the 19th century that uses the same process as lithography, except in this instance, many different stones or plates are used to allow a complex separation of colors to be printed on one sheet of paper.


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

If mankind perished utterly, 2015–2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.11

Like many of these bird species, wood duck populations declined in the 19th century due to habitat loss and the exploitation of their feathers for fashion. Wood ducks rebounded in the 20th century largely thanks to human intervention, this time partially through the invention of nesting boxes these ducks use as habitats. In another ironic pairing, Jackson presents a species with a fondness for manmade habitats alongside the specter of over-development as a destructive force where all creation is artificial and no natural life remains.

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To reference apocalypse by overdevelopment, Jackson appropriates a poster titled “Visit Wonderland, USA,” published by the US Government Printing Office in 1960. Apparently, this poster was part of a campaign instigated by the Secretary of Commerce under Kennedy to lure foreigners to visit the United States. I can’t wrap my head around how this image of endless skyscraper scaffolding could lure anyone to visit.


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn, 2015–2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.12

Audubon proclaimed the meat of the ruffed grouse to be particularly delicious, but this species can be difficult to hunt as the birds camouflage well and prefer to inhabit densely thicketed areas. For this elusive bird potentially lurking directly in a hunter’s midst, Jackson brightens his composition’s skies with irregular streaks of light signifying an alien invasion. Aliens remain a popular theme of science fiction and speculative possibility. Without sentient aliens, earthlings are alone in the universe. Alien invasion scenarios can serve as allegories for the ways human civilizations have responded and might respond to strangers, friends, and foes.

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The male ruffed grouse does not call as part of his courtship display, but instead beats his wings rapidly to produce a drumming noise created by the vacuum of air left behind from his rapid wingbeats. This drumming behavior has earned the ruffed grouse the truly awesome nickname thunder-chicken.


Matthew Day Jackson, artist, born 1974, Panorama City, California, United States
Collaborative Art Editions, publisher
Christopher T. Creyts, printer, active United States

Would scarcely know that we were gone, 2015–2016,
color intaglio
Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.0024.13

The ivory-billed woodpecker is either extinct or so critically endangered that the species has not been definitively identified in the wild for decades. Possible sightings have motivated the establishment of wildlife refuges in Arkansas and Louisiana.

Audubon’s woodpeckers are depicted stripping bark from dead tree limbs to find beetles and larvae. Beyond our view of this flaky bark, Jackson appropriates a portion of 16th-century Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting, The Triumph of Death. The painting acknowledges the Dance of Death, an allegory of death’s universality, and evokes the precarious nature of life during the many plague epidemics beginning with the Black Death in the 14th century and reoccurring periodically throughout Eurasia until the 19th century. There Will Come Soft Rains closes its own dance with death by gently reminding us that, like the nursery rhyme concludes, we all fall down.
 

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Transcript

The last universally accepted sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker was in 1944, and yet many birdwatchers and scientists have reported spotting but not conclusively photographing Audubon’s favorite bird since then. Call me a foolish optimist, but I want to believe there might be a few elusive ivory-billed woodpeckers left in the forested swamps of the American South. Don’t you?


Read Sara Teasdale’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”

Sara Teasdale (1884–1933) was a poet from St. Louis, Missouri, who settled in New York after marrying. She won a precursor to the Pulitzer Prize for her 1917 poetry collection titled Love Songs. Teasdale is likely best known for “There Will Come Soft Rains,” a poem written during World War I and published in Harper’s Magazine in 1918. The poem lulls the reader into a false sense of pastoral calm, only to discover that the natural world Teasdale describes so tenderly has no need for humanity. Teasdale’s poem has inspired and influenced other artists from Ray Bradbury to Matthew Day Jackson.

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools, singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.


John James Audubon, artist, 1785–1851, born Les Cayes, Santo Domingo (present-day Haiti); died New York, New York, United States
John T. Bowen, lithographer

Cardinal Grosbeak, Fringilla cardinalis [Cardinalis cardinalis], 1840–1844,
lithograph, hand coloring
Courtesy of Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology, Kansas City, MO, EL2020.003

Audubon continued to profit from his series The Birds of America by publishing them at a significantly reduced scale in bound volumes accompanied by his written descriptions of the birds in the Ornithological Biography. The excellent condition of this set, combined with the way any bound book protects each page from prolonged exposure to light, allows viewers to appreciate the hand-coloring that still appears as much as is possible as it did when first printed. These prints can be compared to Jackson’s images to reveal the many ways he departs from Audubon in coloration and alterations to the blank backgrounds. For more about this Royal Octavo Edition, click the “What is an ‘Audubon’?” tab.

Hear from the curator
Transcript

Very few people in the 1820s and ‘30s could afford or even had space to own the full Havell edition of the Birds of America, and by 1840, Audubon began working on a smaller edition of the series. These Royal Octavo edition plates are one eighth the scale of the Havell and Bien editions. I had such fun visiting the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City to study these books and am so appreciative they are letting us borrow several volumes for this exhibition.


John James Audubon, author, 1785–1851, born Les Cayes, Santo Domingo (present-day Haiti); died New York, New York, United States
John T. Bowen, lithographer

Carolina Parrot, Psittacus carolinensis [Conuropsis carolinensis], 1840–1844,
lithograph, hand coloring
Courtesy of Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology, Kansas City, MO, EL2020.004

Audubon continued to profit from his series The Birds of America by publishing them at a significantly reduced scale in bound volumes accompanied by his written descriptions of the birds in the Ornithological Biography. The excellent condition of this set, combined with the way any bound book protects each page from prolonged exposure to light, allows viewers to appreciate the hand-coloring that still appears as much as is possible as it did when first printed. These prints can be compared to Jackson’s images to reveal the many ways he departs from Audubon in coloration and alterations to the blank backgrounds. For more about this Royal Octavo Edition, click the “What is an ‘Audubon’?” tab.

Hear from the curator
Transcript

Very few people in the 1820s and ‘30s could afford or even had space to own the full Havell edition of the Birds of America, and by 1840, Audubon began working on a smaller edition of the series. These Royal Octavo edition plates are one eighth the scale of the Havell and Bien editions. I had such fun visiting the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City to study these books and am so appreciative they are letting us borrow several volumes for this exhibition.


John James Audubon, artist, 1785–1851, born Les Cayes, Santo Domingo (present-day Haiti); died New York, New York, United States
John T. Bowen, lithographer

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, 1840–1844,
lithograph, hand coloring
Courtesy of Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology, Kansas City, MO, EL2020.005

Audubon continued to profit from his series The Birds of America by publishing them at a significantly reduced scale in bound volumes accompanied by his written descriptions of the birds in the Ornithological Biography. The excellent condition of this set, combined with the way any bound book protects each page from prolonged exposure to light, allows viewers to appreciate the hand-coloring that still appears as much as is possible as it did when first printed. These prints can be compared to Jackson’s images to reveal the many ways he departs from Audubon in coloration and alterations to the blank backgrounds. For more about this Royal Octavo Edition, click the “What is an ‘Audubon’?” tab.

Hear from the curator
Transcript

Very few people in the 1820s and ‘30s could afford or even had space to own the full Havell edition of the Birds of America, and by 1840, Audubon began working on a smaller edition of the series. These Royal Octavo edition plates are one eighth the scale of the Havell and Bien editions. I had such fun visiting the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City to study these books and am so appreciative they are letting us borrow several volumes for this exhibition.


John James Audubon, author, 1785–1851, born Les Cayes, Santo Domingo (present-day Haiti); died New York, New York, United States
John T. Bowen, lithographer

American Flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber, 1840-1844,
lithograph, hand coloring
Courtesy of Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology, Kansas City, MO, EL2020.006

Audubon continued to profit from his series The Birds of America by publishing them at a significantly reduced scale in bound volumes accompanied by his written descriptions of the birds in the Ornithological Biography. The excellent condition of this set, combined with the way any bound book protects each page from prolonged exposure to light, allows viewers to appreciate the hand-coloring that still appears as much as is possible as it did when first printed. These prints can be compared to Jackson’s images to reveal the many ways he departs from Audubon in coloration and alterations to the blank backgrounds. For more about this Royal Octavo Edition, click the “What is an ‘Audubon’?” tab.

Hear from the curator
Transcript

Very few people in the 1820s and ‘30s could afford or even had space to own the full Havell edition of the Birds of America, and by 1840, Audubon began working on a smaller edition of the series. These Royal Octavo edition plates are one eighth the scale of the Havell and Bien editions. I had such fun visiting the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City to study these books and am so appreciative they are letting us borrow several volumes for this exhibition.


Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) skin, collected 12 March 1893
Courtesy of the KU Biodiversity Institute, Division of Ornithology, EL2020.007

A study skin preserves a bird’s skin and feathers and allows scientists to compare specimens from the same or other species. By studying specimens, sometimes of species that are now extinct where DNA can be extracted, ornithologists can better understand bird taxonomy, ecology, and evolutionary biology.

Hear from the curator
Transcript

If you observe bird specimens in storage at KU’s Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute, they aren’t mounted for display like this ruffed grouse. They’re study skins, like this cardinal, blue jay, and Carolina parakeet. There’s something so much more poignant about the study skins to me. Seeing them is like discovering a dead bird outside your window. You know it’s dead, but you can’t help buy hope it’s only sleeping.


Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) skin, collected 1 June 2018
Courtesy of the KU Biodiversity Institute, Division of Ornithology, EL2020.008

A study skin preserves a bird’s skin and feathers and allows scientists to compare specimens from the same or other species. By studying specimens, sometimes of species that are now extinct where DNA can be extracted, ornithologists can better understand bird taxonomy, ecology, and evolutionary biology.

Hear from the curator
Transcript

If you observe bird specimens in storage at KU’s Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute, they aren’t mounted for display like this ruffed grouse. They’re study skins, like this cardinal, blue jay, and Carolina parakeet. There’s something so much more poignant about the study skins to me. Seeing them is like discovering a dead bird outside your window. You know it’s dead, but you can’t help buy hope it’s only sleeping.


Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) skin, collected 25 April 1964
Courtesy of the KU Biodiversity Institute, Division of Ornithology, EL2020.009

A study skin preserves a bird’s skin and feathers and allows scientists to compare specimens from the same or other species. By studying specimens, sometimes of species that are now extinct where DNA can be extracted, ornithologists can better understand bird taxonomy, ecology, and evolutionary biology.

Hear from the curator
Transcript

If you observe bird specimens in storage at KU’s Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute, they aren’t mounted for display like this ruffed grouse. They’re study skins, like this cardinal, blue jay, and Carolina parakeet. There’s something so much more poignant about the study skins to me. Seeing them is like discovering a dead bird outside your window. You know it’s dead, but you can’t help buy hope it’s only sleeping.


Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)
Courtesy of the KU Biodiversity Institute, Exhibits, EL2020.010

While this ruffed grouse has been prepared and mounted in a lifelike manner, most specimens in scientific bird collections are study skins, as seen in the specimens of the Carolina parakeet, northern cardinal, and blue jay.

Hear from the curator
Transcript

If you observe bird specimens in storage at KU’s Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute, they aren’t mounted for display like this ruffed grouse. They’re study skins, like this cardinal, blue jay, and Carolina parakeet. There’s something so much more poignant about the study skins to me. Seeing them is like discovering a dead bird outside your window. You know it’s dead, but you can’t help buy hope it’s only sleeping.


John James Audubon, author, 1785–1851, born Les Cayes, Santo Domingo (present-day Haiti); died New York, New York, United States
Julius Bien, lithographer
Roe Lockwood & Son, publisher

Summer or Wood Duck, Anas sponsa [Aix sponsa], 1860,
chromolithograph
Courtesy of Special Collections, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, EL2020.011

The Bien Edition of Audubon’s Birds of America recreates the scale of the first, life-size edition Audubon published between 1827 and 1838. For more about the Bien Edition and other versions of Audubon’s Birds of America, click on the “What is an ‘Audubon’?” tab.

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Transcript

We’re lucky to have this original Bien edition Audubon included in the exhibition on loan from the Spencer Research Library. The first, Havell edition of the Birds of America was printed via etching and other intaglio techniques on metal plates, but just a few years later, chromolithography was the hip new printing technology of choice, and that’s the technique you see in this print.


Read Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury (1920–2012) first published his short story “There Will Come Soft Rains” in Collier’s magazine in 1950 and included it in The Martian Chronicles later that year. The story imagines a post-apocalyptic future in which homes continue to be run by machines although humans have not survived. A robot recites Sara Teasdale’s poem for an absent owner. While Teasdale’s work can be considered a response to World War I, Bradbury struggles with the implications of nuclear war that concluded World War II. Each author imagines a world without humans. 

Bradbury’s story, as printed in 1950, is available to read below. When originally published, the story was dated in the future year of 1985. More recent printings date the story in the year 2026.

“There will come soft rains,” by Ray Bradbury, first published May 6, 1950.

     The house was a good house and had been planned and built by the people who were to live in it, in the year 1980. The house was like many another house in that year; it fed and slept and entertained its inhabitants, and made a good life for them. The man and wife and their two children lived at ease there, and lived happily, even while the world trembled. All of the fine things of living, the warm things, music and poetry, books that talked, beds that warmed and made themselves, fires that built themselves in the fireplaces of evenings, were in this house, and living there was a contentment.

     And then one day the world shook and there was an explosion followed by ten thousand explosions and red fire in the sky and a rain of ashes and radioactivity, and the happy time was over.

     In the living room the voice-clock sang. Ticktock, seven A.M. o'clock, time to get up! as if it were afraid nobody would. The house lay empty. The clock talked on into the empty morning.

     The kitchen stove sighed and ejected from its warm interior eight eggs, sunny side up, twelve bacon slices, two coffees, and two cups of hot cocoa. Seven nine, breakfast time, seven nine.

     "Today is April 28th, 1985," said a phonograph voice in the kitchen ceiling. "Today, remember, is Mr. Featherstone's birthday. Insurance, gas, light and water bills are due."

     Somewhere in the walls, relays clicked, memory tapes glided under electric eyes. Recorded voices moved beneath steel needles:

     Eight one, run, run, off to school, off to work, run, run, ticktock, eight one o'clock!

     But no doors slammed, no carpets took the quick tread of rubber heels. Outside, it was raining. The voice of the weather box on the front door sang quietly: "Rain, rain, go away, rubbers, raincoats for today." And the rain tapped on the roof.

     At eight thirty the eggs were shriveled. An aluminum wedge scraped them into the sink, where hot water whirled them down a metal throat which digested and flushed them away to the distant sea.

     Nine fifteen, sang the clock, time to clean.

     Out of warrens in the wall, tiny mechanical mice darted. The rooms were acrawl with the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They sucked up the hidden dust, and popped back in their burrows.

     Ten o'clock. The sun came out from behind the rain. The house stood alone on a street where all the other houses were rubble and ashes. At night, the ruined town gave off a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles.

     Ten fifteen. The garden sprinkler filled the soft morning air with golden fountains. The water tinkled over the charred west side of the house where it had been scorched evenly free of its white paint. The entire face of the house was black, save for five places. Here, the silhouette, in paint, of a man mowing a lawn. Here, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung in the air—higher up, the image of a thrown ball—and opposite him a girl, her hands raised to catch a ball which never came down.

     The five spots of paint—the man, the woman, the boy, the girl, the ball—remained. The rest was a thin layer of charcoal.

     The gentle rain of the sprinkler filled the garden with falling light.

     Until this day, how well the house had kept its peace. How carefully it had asked, "Who goes there?" and getting no reply from rains and lonely foxes and whining cats, it had shut up its windows and drawn the shades. If a sparrow brushed a window, the shade snapped up. The bird, startled, flew off! No, not even an evil bird must touch the house.

     And inside, the house was like an altar with nine thousand robot attendants, big and small, servicing, attending, singing in choirs, even though the gods had gone away and the ritual was meaningless.

     A dog whined, shivering, on the front porch.

     The front door recognized the dog voice and opened. The dog padded in wearily, thinned to the bone, covered with sores. It tracked mud on the carpet. Behind it whirred the angry robot mice, angry at having to pick up mud and maple leaves, which, carried to the burrows, were dropped down cellar tubes into an incinerator which sat like an evil Baal in a dark corner.

     The dog ran upstairs, hysterically yelping at each door. It pawed the kitchen door wildly.

     Behind the door, the stove was making pancakes which filled the whole house with their odor.

     The dog frothed, ran insanely, spun in a circle, biting its tail, and died.

     It lay in the living room for an hour.

     One o'clock.

     Delicately sensing decay, the regiments of mice hummed out of the walls, soft as blown leaves, their electric eyes glowing.

     One fifteen.

     The dog was gone.

     The cellar incinerator glowed suddenly and a whirl of sparks leaped up the flue.

     Two thirty-five.

     Bridge tables sprouted from the patio walls. Playing cards fluttered onto pads in a shower of pips. Martinis appeared on an oaken bench.

     But the tables were silent, the cards untouched.

     At four thirty the tables folded back into the walls.

     Five o'clock. The bathtubs filled with clear hot water. A safety razor dropped into a wall-mold, ready.

     Six, seven, eight, nine o'clock.

     Dinner made, ignored, and flushed away; dishes washed; and in the study, the tobacco stand produced a cigar, half an inch of gray ash on it, smoking, waiting. The hearth fire bloomed up all by itself, out of nothing.

     Nine o'clock. The beds began to warm their hidden circuits, for the night was cool.

     A gentle click in the study wall. A voice spoke from above the crackling fireplace:

"Mrs. McClellan, what poem would you like to hear this evening?"

     The house was silent.

     The voice said, "Since you express no preference, I'll pick a poem at random." Quiet music rose behind the voice. "Sara Teasdale. A favorite of yours, as I recall.

"There will come soft rains and the smell of the

     ground.

And swallows circling with their shimmering

     sound;

 

And frogs in the pools singing at night.

And wild plum-trees in tremulous white.

 

Robins will wear their feathery fire

Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

 

And not one will know of the war, not one

Will care at last when it is done.

 

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,

If mankind perished utterly;

 

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn.

Would scarcely know that we were gone."

 

     The voice finished the poem. The empty chairs faced each other between the silent walls, and the music played.

     At ten o'clock, the house began to die.

     The wind blew. The bough of a falling tree smashed the kitchen window. Cleaning solvent, bottled, crashed on the stove.

     "Fire!" screamed voices. "Fire!" Water pumps shot down water from the ceilings. But the solvent spread under the doors, making fire as it went, while other voices took up the alarm in chorus.

     The windows broke with heat and the wind blew in to help the fire. Scurrying water rats, their copper wheels spinning, squeaked from the walls, squirted their water, ran for more.

     Too late! Somewhere, a pump stopped. The ceiling sprays stopped raining. The reserve water supply, which had filled baths and washed dishes for many silent A days, was gone.

     The fire crackled upstairs, ate paintings, lay hungrily in the beds! It devoured every room.

     The house was shuddering, oak bone on bone, the bared skeleton cringing from the heat, all the wires revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins quiver in scalded air. Voices screamed, "Help, help, fire, run!" Windows snapped open and shut, like mouths, undecided. Fire, rim! the voices wailed a tragic nursery rhyme, and the silly Greek chorus faded as the sound-wires popped their sheathings. Ten dozen high, shrieking voices died, as emergency batteries melted.

     In other parts of the house, in the last instant under the fire avalanche, other choruses could be heard announcing the time, the weather, appointments, diets; playing music, reading poetry in the fiery study, while doors opened and slammed and umbrellas appeared at the doors and put themselves away—a thousand things happening, like the interior of a clock shop at midnight, all clocks striking, a merry-go-round of squeaking, whispering, rushing, until all the film spools were burned and fell, and all the wires withered and the circuits cracked.

     In the kitchen, an instant before the final collapse, the stove, hysterically hissing, could be seen making breakfasts at a psychopathic rate, ten dozen pancakes, six dozen loaves of toast.

     The crash! The attic smashing kitchen down into cellar and subcellar. Deep freeze, armchairs, filmtapes, beds, were thrown in a cluttered mound deep under.

     Smoke and silence.

     Dawn shone faintly in the east. In the ruins, one wall stood alone. Within the wall, a voice said, over and over again and again, even as the sun rose to shine upon the heaped rubble and steam;

     "Today is April 29th, 1985. Today is April 29th,1985. Today is . . ."                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                              THE END