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Lake Forest Library restores Audubons. John James Audubon engravings.



Title: The Birds of America (set of 10)
Artist: John James Audubon
Medium: Color plate from copper engraving, with aquatint
Dimensions: 37.5” x 24” framed (originals); 45” x 33” (restored)
Location in Library: Friends Reading Room


Gracing the walls of the Friends Reading Room is a set of ten original engravings created from works by artist and naturalist John James Audubon.  Audubon (1785-1851) is best known for his series of life-size watercolor paintings of the birds of North America, portrayed in breathtaking detail in their natural habitats. 


Audubon’s dream of sharing his work was made possible by London engraver Robert Havell who, along with his staff, created a total of 435 engraved copper plates from Audubon’s original paintings between 1826 and 1838. The series of hand-colored engravings was published as a spectacular portfolio entitled The Birds of America, of which 175 sets were sold by subscription for $1,000 each.  It is believed that a maximum of 200 complete sets of the portfolio were produced.  The engravings were printed on sheets that measured approximately 26 inches by 39 inches, called “double elephant” by the printing trade.  These engravings, each showing its subject in actual size, are among the largest ever made.  The first edition of The Birds of America is now known as the Havell double elephant folio edition, and each of the works owned and displayed by the Library has been authenticated as an original from that edition.  The prints included in the Library’s collection include:  King Eider, Golden Eagle, Arctic Loon, Common Egret, Great Cormorant, Marsh Hawk, Whooping Crane, Blue Goose and Snow Goose, Common Goldeneye, and Sage Grouse.


The Audubons on display in the Reading Room were donated to the Library decades ago, although the name of the generous benefactor and the date of the donation are unknown.  The original prints had been trimmed prior to framing and had been glued to cardboard mats.  The condition of the prints had deteriorated over the course of many years, and extensive conservation work was undertaken beginning in 2000 to restore and reframe the valuable works.   Restoration was completed by the Kenyon Oppenheimer Gallery of Chicago, with generous funding provided by the Friends of the Library, and memorial gifts from family and friends of Leonard C. Everson and Rev. Dr. Stephen S. Infantino. 


The University of Michigan has made the entire volume of 435 plates available for public viewing:


For more information on John James Audubon and his art, visit the Oppenheimer Gallery’s site at


Selected References:

Daniel I. Dorfman, “Restored Prints Grace Library Walls” (Lake Forester, January 11, 2001)

Kenyon Oppenheimer, Inc.  (

The Original Water-Color Paintings by John James Audubon for The Birds of America (American Heritage, 1966)