The State Museum of Pennsylvania will open the special exhibit “A Fondness for Birds: Pennsylvania’s Alexander Wilson,” to the public on Friday, May 16, 2014. Hailed as the first artist-writer to scientifically capture and document American birds from life in naturalistic poses, Wilson’s published work preceded John James Audubon’s famous illustrations by a decade.
The exhibit, which will run through March 15, 2015, will feature bird prints and first edition volumes of the 200 year-old “American Ornithology” series by Wilson. He is largely recognized as the father of American ornithology, which is the study of birds.
Visitors can see the exhibit for free from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on opening night as it is one of the museum’s featured offerings for “3rd in the Burg,” Harrisburg’s monthly celebration of arts and entertainment.
Alexander Wilson was a Scottish immigrant and poet who came to Philadelphia in the 1790s. He befriended a number of citizen-scientist luminaries of his day, including artist and museum pioneer Charles Willson Peale and naturalist William Bartram of the noted Bartram’s Garden.
Wilson who claimed he was “…biased, almost from infancy, by a fondness for birds,” hiked throughout Pennsylvania and much of the eastern United States to identify and draw America’s birds. He compiled his detailed bird portraits in “American Ornithology,” a 9-volume set of hand-colored engravings. He sold them to subscribers across the country, including Thomas Jefferson and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The State Library of Pennsylvania is loaning the Commonwealth’s original and recently conserved set of “American Ornithology” volumes to The State Museum for the exhibition. Also featured in the exhibit will be a number of bird specimens from the museum’s Botany and Zoology collections, some of which date to the late 19th century.
The specimens underscore the museum’s historic and continuing role in the study of Pennsylvania’s flora and fauna. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has provided ornithological and educational assistance to the Wilson exhibit with fresh insights into Wilson’s legacy and the critical role of bird conservation in Pennsylvania today.
“A Fondness for Birds” will be the first exhibit presented in a new natural history gallery created on The State Museum’s third floor adjacent to its long-standing and popular Mammal Hall. The project is a new cooperative initiative by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) to use the natural history and sciences expertise of a number of state agencies to create new exhibits and programming promoting an appreciation of Pennsylvania’s natural history.
PHMC’s Natural History Advisory Committee includes the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Fish and Boat Commission, and the Game Commission.
Media contact: Howard Pollman, 717-705-8639