Finding a Muse
by Michael Zabel
In a dilapidated cardboard box marked clearance a very unlikely participant, deep blue and giant, sat among the other unwanted of and discarded books. Books were haphazardly picked over looking as though the gravitational force of this one monolithic tome was recruiting the remnants to join its orbit. As luck would have it, everything on clearance was reduced to a mere two dollars and since this particular book of interest was normally 40 times that amount, I found it hard to believe that nobody else had jumped on such a deal. The book was none other than a beautifully printed edition of John James Audubon‘s Birds of America (pictured below) complete with a sturdy protective cover:
Obviously the decision to buy this book was a no-brainer (after, of course, I double checked that it was indeed only two bucks). I spent that afternoon savoring the complete collection; carefully examining the beautifully crafted illustrations that Audubon executed with great accuracy and aesthetic detail nearly two hundred years ago. This got me thinking about the importance the proverbial muse or, to a less dramatic extent, creatively exploring a topic that the artist is personally acquainted and excited with. A healthy obsession filtered into self-initiated projects is a major contributor to the development and growth of personal style. For John James Audubon (naturalist, ornithologist, painter) the plentiful species avifauna throughout North America inspired him to produce hundreds of drawings and paintings which were later translated into life size aquatint prints. Hundreds of years later, the unmistakeable style of Audubon continues to be the standard of avian field guides and in some cases the best documentation of a few extinct bird species.