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Spring at Mill Grove: New Building and an Art Show in Audubon's Barn

The John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove is reopening this spring and will host its annual art exhibition, “Drawn From Nature,” to coincide with the reopening of John James Audubon's historic home and grounds. The Center closed at the end of November to allow construction of a facility that will include a new visitor center and museum set to open in 2019.

“We are in construction on a project that has been envisioned for more than 10 years now to create a visitor center and a more robust museum to serve as a resource for learning about birds and John James Audubon,” said Carrie Barron, Assistant Director and Education Manager at the Center.

According to Wendy Christie, Development Coordinator, the museum will be dedicated to Audubon’s life and works, as well as to the birds he studied. “The main gallery space will be dedicated to all about birds,” Christie said. The museum will also have a theater where a video about Audubon’s life and other rotating films will be screened.

The Center serves as a sanctuary for birds that are not able to be released back into the wild. The project includes a new “Raptor Enclosure” in a more accessible location for visitors and staff. According to Barron, the new building will have its own electricity and running water on site. The enclosure will have longer flight cages, a spot for vet exams, and better shelter from the weather.

An original 1838 copy of John James Audubon’s book, “Birds of America,” will also be displayed in the new museum. The book is delicate, so the pages are usually turned about once a month. When the exhibit opens in 2019, a new iPad exhibit will accompany the book, so visitors will be able to view all the images without damaging the book.

John James Audubon was one of the first Americans to study and document wildlife in Pennsylvania, and his book is still considered a masterpiece in the study of birds in Pennsylvania. His book features life-size prints of birds in their natural habitat, and his studies revealed many new species that were unknown at the time.

Audubon used watercolor paint to produce renderings of birds with incredible detail. Production of the book required his paintings to be engraved on metal plates. Audubon traveled to England to personally oversee the creation of these plates. The result is a beautifully detailed book that is still highly regarded in the birding community.

Each year, the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove hosts “Drawn from Nature,” a nature-themed art exhibition. This event calls for artists to submit works for exhibition at the center’s restored historic barn. “Drawn from Nature is a phrase that appears in John James Audubon’s work,” said Wendy Christie, Development Coordinator. “The intention was always to have a community-based show highlighting work that in some way was inspired by nature as Audubon was.”

The categories include oil and acrylic, watercolor, other two-dimensional work on paper (e.g., prints pastels collage, photography), and all things three-dimensional (e.g., sculpture, glass mosaics and pottery). This wide variety of media has allowed for some exceptional submissions including a finely detailed collage, similar to a Middle Eastern rug with tiny nature scenes only visible through close inspection, and many intricate sculptures and wood carvings.

According to Barron, the Center’s non-releasable birds often become subjects themselves. She believes the grounds have plenty to offer to artists. “I think it’s really exciting to people that are drawn to working on subjects that relate to the environment and nature,” Barron said. “We are looking for artists who are also inspired and engaged by the natural world,” Christie added.

The exhibit takes place in the renovated barn that was part of the property when Audubon lived there. “I think a lot of people are excited to have their artwork hang in a place where he spent a few years fine tuning his drawing skills,” Carrie said. “It has this wonderful historic charm to it, but now works perfectly as a place to display art.”

The call for submissions ends on March 11, and artist will be notified by March 19 whether their work has been accepted. This is the second year that online submissions are being allowed. Artists still need to personally deliver their work to the Center prior to the opening of the exhibition.

Barron sees this exhibition as a way to continue honoring Audubon’s legacy. She hopes the works of art will facilitate discussion. “If you are an art lover, and you walk up to a painting that has a spectacular scene, and you are in awe of it, that might be the beginning of a conversation,” Carrie said.

“An art show inspired by the work of John James Audubon, located at the site where [he] first lived in the United States, is a wonderful opportunity to walk in his footsteps, to connect his vision, his excitement for the natural world with what’s happening today,” Christie added.

Click here to plan your trip and learn more about JJAC at Mill Grove