In Arts & Entertainment

John James Audubon's "Entrapped Otter," circa 1827-30.

In Arts & Entertainment

Mark Catesby's "The Wampum Snake" from "The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands."

MAM shows Catesby and the naturalists

As the super-cutting-edge "Act/React" exhibition slows to its close on Jan. 11, Milwaukee Art Museum has a number of other exhibitions on view.

One that is perhaps the opposite of "Act" in some ways is "Catesby, Audubon, and the Discovery of a New World," which opened Dec. 18 and runs through March 22, 2009.

The roughly 60 prints by a generation of naturalists, including the most famous among them -- John James Audubon -- and Englishman Mark Catesby, who was a leading light of the movement in the 18th century.

"Mark Catesby was the first naturalist to attempt a complete survey of the plants, birds, amphibians and reptiles, mammals, fish, and even the soil and water of the new world," says MAM's Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings Mary Weaver Chapin, who curated the show.

"As an artist, he was almost entirely self-taught, teaching himself to draw, then receiving some very rudimentary education in etching so he could publish 220 etched plates which he then hand-colored himself. His worked was widely praised by horticulturalists and naturalists, and was published in two subsequent editions. It is widely considered to be one of the most important illustrated natural history books of the 18th century."

Catesby first came to America in 1712 where he stayed with his sister in Williamsburg and where he hoped to study the flora and fauna. He then went on to explore the East Coast and the West Indies. Between 1731 and 1743 Catesby published "Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands," the first book on the plants and wildlife of North America.

This work laid the groundwork for subsequent generations of naturalists, including Audubon a century later, who came to America to expand on Catesby's work.

The exhibition also features works by the likes of Alesander Wilson and John Woodhouse Audubon, along with rare books from the Milwaukee Public Library, the UW Memorial Library in Madison and Chicago's Newberry Library.

"This exhibition offers a view into the excitement of the discovery of the new world seen through the eyes of these artists from the period of 1731 to 1848," says Chapin.

"Almost all of the works are drawn from the Milwaukee Art Museum's own collection, and augmented with work from prestigious libraries and foundations. Highlights include Audubon's magnificent American Flamingo, a rare map by Mark Catesby of the American colonies, and Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology -- volumes once owned by Audubon, who annotated them extensively."

Chapin says that this amalgam of works will interest visitors with a variety of interests and like "Act/React," it is great for the youngest visitors, too.

"It is a show for print connoisseurs, birders, scientists, American history buffs, and collectors," she says. "Even children are sure to enjoy the hand-colored images of birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles."

Chapin leads gallery talks at 1:30 p.nm. on Tuesday, Jan. 13 and Tuesday, Feb. 17. On Thursday, Jan. 22 at 6:15 p.m. Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes, author of "John James Audubon: The Making of an American," presents a lecture and signs copies of his book.

A related show, "Drawn to Nature: Prints by JoAnna Poehlmann," shows works by Milwaukee's world-famous Poehlmann on the Mezzanine Level from Dec. 4 until March 3.


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