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Museum Director Marcelle Giving a Press Preview

Sixty Rare Prints in Milwaukee Explore Audubon and His Predecessors

Posted on November 24th, 2008

Milwaukee, WI, December 18, 2008—
A new world of American splendor is seen through the eyes of intrepid artist-explorers as never before in Catesby, Audubon, and the Discovery of a New World: Prints of the Flora and Fauna of America, on view December 18, 2008–March 22, 2009, in the Koss gallery at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Featuring a selection of prints from the impressive holdings of the Museum’s Collection, the exhibition profiles both the outstanding artistic achievements of daring naturalists and the innovations of printmaking that helped them create their masterpieces. The occasion brings Pulitzer-prize winning biographer Richard Rhodes to the Museum for a lecture on January 22.

A naturalist born in England in 1683, Mark Catesby explored the British colonies in North America on a four-year expedition supported by the British Royal Society that began in 1722. Catesby toiled for a decade to complete in 1731 his two-volume masterwork, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. The volumes—published more than sixty years before the invention of lithography—featured 220 hand-colored etchings of the birds, fish, reptiles, and plants he encountered in the new world. Carolus Linnaeus included it as a source in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae (1758).

Catesby’s exploration of America’s seemingly limitless natural variety set in motion a rich history of exploration and printmaking in America. A century after its creation, John James Audubon published his own treatise,
The Birds of America, from Original Drawings Made during a Residence of 25 Years in the United States, which stands as a monument of American art. Audubon’s masterpiece was the result of a spirited competition with Scottish-American naturalist Alexander Wilson—whose prints of American birds are also featured, along with lithographs of American mammals by Audubon and his son, John Woodhouse Audubon.

Approximately sixty prints of the plants, birds, mammals, and reptiles of North America fill the gallery, drawn from the Museum’s Collection. A selection of key loans from three private collections, the
Chipstone Foundation, and a trio of major libraries—the Milwaukee Public Library, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library and Chicago’s Newberry Library—complete the presentation. Five original books show the prints exactly as they were seen for the first time, and present to visitors hand-written author marginalia.

Catesby, Audubon, and the Discovery of a New World: Prints of the Flora and Fauna of America is organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum and curated by Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings Mary Weaver Chapin, Ph.D. The exhibition is inspired by a 2007 gift of 54 ornithological prints from Donald and Helen Polacheck in memory of Stanley and Dorothy Polacheck. Sponsored by The Phoebe R. and John D. Lewis Foundation

Richard Rhodes: “Audubon in the American Wilderness”
Thursday, January 22, 2009
6:15 pm
Lubar Auditorium
Free with general admission
John James Audubon (1785–1851) wandered the American backcountry drawing birds at a time when the primordial wilderness was already beginning to give way to commercial exploitation and pioneer settlement. His predecessors Mark Catesby and Alexander Wilson figured prominently among his models, but his ambition was larger than theirs: he intended not only to catalog American’s birds but also to merge scientific illustration with fine art. To do so, he challenged the illustrative traditions of his day.

Winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, Richard Rhodes is author of the acclaimed biography John James Audubon (Random House, 2004). A reception and booksigning will follow in the Museum’s Baumgartner Galleria.
Sponsored by the American Arts Society, Milwaukee Art Museum Garden Club, and Print Forum

Artist Talk: JoAnna Poehlmann
Thursday, February 19, 2009
6:15 p.m.
Mezzanine and Koss Gallery
With her art in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, this Milwaukee-based artist is known nationally and internationally for her delicate yet assured draftsmanship, keen observation, and sensitive understanding of the natural world. Birds, reptiles, and insects have been an integral part of Poehlmann’s oeuvre since the 1970s. In conjunction with this exhibition, a selection of her prints and artist books will be on display on the Mezzanine December 3, 2008–March 3, 2009. Join the artist and exhibition curator Mary Weaver Chapin with Chief Educator Barbara Brown Lee for a discussion of Poehlmann’s career and its relationship to the work of Catesby and Audubon.

Exhibition Opening

Thursday, December 18
5–8 p.m.
Gallery Talk, 6:15 p.m.
Reception, 7 p.m.
Free with general admission
On opening night, be among the first to see the newest installation in the Koss gallery and learn more about Catesby, Audubon, and the Discovery of a New World with curator Mary Weaver Chapin, who will deliver a gallery talk at 6:15 p.m. followed by a reception in the Museum’s Baumgartner Galleria. Sponsored by Print Forum.

Curator Talks
Tuesday, January 13, 2009, 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009, 1:30 p.m.
Free with general admission
Join curator Mary Weaver Chapin for exclusive and informative 45-minute tours of the exhibition.

“More than Meets the Eye”
Tuesday, February 17, 2009, 1:30 p.m.
Free with general admission
Chief Conservator Jim DeYoung and curator Mary Weaver Chapin discuss the printmaking process and innovations these naturalist artists used to bring their plants, birds, reptiles, and mammals to life.

About the Museum
The Milwaukee Art Museum’s far-reaching holdings include more than 20,000 works spanning antiquity to the present day. With a history dating back to 1888, the Museum houses a Collection with strengths in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, American decorative arts, and folk and self-taught art. The Museum includes the Santiago Calatrava–designed Quadracci Pavilion, named by Time magazine
“Best Design of 2001.”

Images and Interviews Available upon Request.