How the Audubon House Inspired my “Birds of Vacation” Snapshots.

I spent last week in Key West, Florida–the sun, sea, and saltwater were such welcomed departures from the terrible New York winter we had this year. As I’ve looked over my trip photos, one theme has really emerged:


Of course, I took many pictures of the Hemingway House and six-toed cats, as well as the requisite images of my travel companions smiling in posed clusters. But the birds appeared again and again. Both live birds, such as herons hanging out on the coastline and pelicans being fed by local fishermen, and etched ones, seen at the Audubon House.

John James Audubon visited the Florida Keys in 1832, and stayed on a property remarkably close to the current Audubon House while researching his “Birds of America” folio. The house boasts several prints from the original Havell edition, including this fantastic White Pelican:

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Also on view: an artist’s proof from this series, of the White-Crowned Pigeon, which I absolutely loved. This proof allowed Audubon to approve the direction of the print before the full edition was made, and reminds me how collaborative the process between artist and skilled printmaker can be.

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Inspired by Mr. Audubon, I found myself observing birds around the island. Whilst my approach to documenting them varied slightly (no birds were killed, no beautiful watercolors were made, and no science will be advanced!), I did understand how Key West could’ve energized his work. Three of my favorite snapshots:

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While I’m no Audubon, there is a real joy in following his lead and observing these creatures, however differently.

Outsider Art and Americana at Sotheby’s and Christie’s

We are in the midst of Americana week in NYC, and that means some fabulous offerings at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. A few of my favorite objects in the upcoming sales:

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Three fantastic Bill Traylor works at Sotheby’s. I’m partial to the man with a cane (on the right)–I love the off-center placement of the figure on the card.

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Another, quite different offering at Sotheby’s: an early-19th-century manuscript booklet from Pennsylvania. What a spectacular “Rattle Snake” with legs!

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A delectable Justin McCarthy at Christie’s. I’m not usually a fan of this artist’s work, but the colors and textures on this piece really show how McCarthy internalized Impressionist ideas and made them his own.

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Again at Christie’s: two divine works by Sister Gertrude Morgan, representing the prophet Elijah (top) and New Jerusalem (bottom). Both demonstrate Morgan’s ability to combine religious messages with contemporary secular imagery and fantastical elements (An apartment complex surrounded by angels? Pretty fab!).

While I don’t believe that works by self-taught artists, including Traylor, McCarthy, and Morgan, should be considered “Americana,” I do believe that good art can hold its own in any number of settings. Pennsylvania German earthenware plates can live next to Bill Traylor’s modernist drawings. Sister Gertrude Morgan’s Elijah can hold interesting conversations with Chippendale tea tables.

UPDATE: The auctions went brilliantly! Works by well known outsider artists far surpassed estimates, showing that self-taught artists, and outsider art, really do have a place in the art world. The Bill Traylor works at Sotheby’s (pictured above in the original post) did especially well: the central piece, “Man with a Plow,” sold for $365,000 (inc. buyer’s fee), far above the projected 125,000-175,000. At Christie’s, a standout work was William Edmondson’s “Mother and Child,” which went for $263,000 (inc. fee). Its estimate was only 50,000-80,000. For complete auction results, check out the auction pages at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.