You Make Me Cuckoo

 
This month’s master artist drives me cuckoo, like the “Mangrove Cuckoo” above, and I mean “cuckoo” in the nicest of ways.  His work makes my heart sing like a bird!  And his name?  Why, John James Audubon, of course!
  
Who is John James Audubon?  

Once upon a “real” time, in 1785, John James Audubon was born in Haiti.  His mom died before his first birthday.  His dad remarried and sent him to France to be raised by his step mother.  When he was 18 years old, he moved to his father’s estate outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and lived there for a few years.  Soon, he met his beautiful wife in 1808 and they were married.  The happy couple then moved to the state of Kentucky where Audubon tried to sell things, but he also dabbled in portrait painting, gave art lessons, and did the work of a taxidermist, which means he practiced the art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of animals for display.

Twelve years later, in 1820, he met American ornithologist (a person who studies birds) whose name was Alexander Wilson.  He gave Mr. Audubon confidence in his abilities to draw birds, so with a bird song in his heart, he decided to undertake a massive publishing project, life-size illustrations of the birds of America!  Do you know how many birds are in America?  

Audubon illustrated 1065 birds!  He and other nineteenth-century bird artists did not usually draw living birds. They sketched mounted bird skins. Audubon preferred to wire recently shot birds in life-like positions and to draw them right away. To make them look like they were flying, he hung birds upside down so that the wings opened!  Even though it says “Drawn from Nature” on the plates, it doesn’t mean the birdies sat for hours posing for him.  He did observe them in their natural habitat however and then worked hard both in the field and in his studio to finish all of his drawings and paintings.

Why does Audubon make me cuckoo?

Reason #1PERSEVERANCE.  He decided to draw every single bird in America. I gasp at the thought of painting every single bird known to mankind.  Audubon painted 1065 birds.  That’s a whole lot of birds and a whole lot of paintings!  His perseverance under great odds makes my shake my head in amazement.    
 
Reason #2 – ATTENTION TO DETAIL.  The 435 engravings from his book, Birds of North America, including the one above made from his watercolor drawings, show birds life-size in natural habitats.  He would need keen observation skills to complete his task of accurately depicting these beautiful birds.  
 
Reason #3 –  FAITH.  It took a leap of faith to take on a project of this magnitude. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”  Matthew 17:20 NIV.  John James Audubon believed he could, so he did!
 
REFLECTION QUESTIONS:    
1.  What kinds of character traits do you need to have to be an artist like John James Audubon?  (Perseverance, attention to detail, and faith!)
2.   How many birds did Mr. Audubon draw/paint?  (1065.  If you put his engravings from his book end to end they would span about a quarter of a mile!)
3.   Did the birds pose for him?  (No, they were “stuffed” and hung immediately so to recreate their natural habitat.

APPLICATION:
You may wish to google image search the Audubon engraving of your state bird from the internet to show your student.  Our state bird here in Florida is the Common Mockingbird (below.)  

Here are 3 facts about our Florida state bird, the Mockingbird you may share with your student along with the picture of the Mockingbird and the story of Mr. Audubon:
1.  They like to sing all day and even all night!  
2.  They are called Mockingbirds because they like to mimic the sounds of other birds, even frogs!  They learn new sounds all their lives.  
3.  Their songs are a series of phrases which are repeated 2 to 6 times before they shift to a new sound and they can go on for 20 seconds or more.   

This is a great way to make a connection with your little one to Audubon the artist, the science of birds, and a history lesson about the state they live in. You children probably have seen and/or heard these birds many times, and, now, every time they see their state bird their recollection will be refreshed as to this great artist, John James Audubon!

The funny thing is, in closing, I have been the target of many jokes in my lifetime because I was born with the last name of Bird.  “Bird Brain” is what I was endearingly called by my friends, especially when my slightly creative cuckoo-ness kicked in.  To my dad, however, I was always his little “Tweety.”  When I married, it felt sad to leave my Bird identity behind, so as an artist, I decided to incorporate my identity with my new last name and thus Laura Bird Miller, Artist was born.  Lynda Bird Johnson was the reason for many of my nature paintings when I was a little girl.  If you want to find out the rest of the story and see my art go to
And if you want to “tweet” with me, connect via Twitter at laurabirdtweets.
Yes, I know.  What can I say?
 
Enjoy and God bless!  
 
Laura Bird Miller, Artist/Art Instructor

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