Masterpiece Conversations: John James Audubon


Trumpeter Swan from The Birds of America
John James Audubon, American, born Santo Domingo, 1827-1838
(hand-colored aquatint/engravings on Whatman paper)
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

In Genesis, God says, “let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” What a view the birds must have from so high in the sky. Imagine the fun they have swooping and spinning and feeling the wind flow through their feathers. Birds are fantastic creatures and they capture our imaginations. I can’t tell you how many times as a boy or even as a grown-up, I daydream about what it must be like to be a bird. Close your eyes and think about birds. Can you hear their tweets and songs? Can you see their different shapes and colors? Can you pretend to be like a bird, the way they strut their feathers and dance? It’s no wonder artists love to paint, draw, and sculpt these beautiful creatures.

A long time ago, (two hundred and thirty years to be exact), a man was born, and was given a very fun name. His name was John Audubon. John Audubon loved birds and he wanted to show everybody their colors and shapes. How could he do this? Cameras hadn’t been invented yet, so he painted them. He traveled around America, painting every bird he could find. His paintings traveled around the world and people were amazed by how beautiful the birds were and how real they looked. He became so famous for his paintings and for loving nature, that today there is a special group of people that follow in his footsteps by helping take care of birds and other animals. These people are called, “The Audubon Society.” The Audubon Society likes to plan bird watching outings. Maybe you could go bird watching sometime, but make sure to take a pencil and some paper with you. You can be like John Audubon and draw every bird and creature you see.


Reflection Questions:

What type of bird is in this painting?

How does this painting help people know what a trumpeter swan looks like?

What other animal can you find in this painting?

How does the other animal help us know what size a trumpeter swan is?

What else does this painting tell you? (What time of day is it? What time of year is it? Do swans like water?)


Ponder it!


Kevin Bartle


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