America’s Other Audubon, by Joy M. Kiser
By Pat Williamsen
Genevieve Jones first viewed John James Audubon’s engravings for Birds of America at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. She appreciated his exquisite engravings but believed he had neglected an important aspect of the birds he illustrated. Upon returning home to Circleville, she set about the ambitious task of illustrating the nests of Ohio’s breeding birds. The project was a family affair; her father financed the venture and sold subscriptions while her brother collected nests and eggs. Genevieve drew the nests, etched the lithograph stones, and hand-colored the prints. The book was released to subscribers in twenty-three installments.
The first installment was sent to subscribers in July 1879. Leading ornithologists of the day hailed the illustrations as more beautiful than Audubon’s; Rutherford B. Hayes and Theodore Roosevelt became subscribers. In a tragic turn, Jones could not continue her work; she died of typhoid fever at the age of 32. Her family and friends picked up the unfinished project, eventually producing 90 copies of Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio.
With advances in ornithology and printing, new birding guides appear with every migration, and Jones’s book was relegated to the back shelves of history until 1995, when writer Joy Kiser happened on a copy in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Using unpublished sources from the Jones family, Kisers’ America’s Other Audubon brings Jones’s nearly forgotten work to light. In addition to biographical insight about Jones and her family, the publication includes finely reproduced plates of the original illustrations. America’s Other Audubon includes a sampling of the detailed field notes recorded for each nest illustrated, and Jones’s finely drawn illustrations provide such exacting detail that the reader will know what to look for in the field.
This beautiful coffee table book is a rich addition to any collection of books about Ohio. America’s Other Audubon is an important reminder of the significance of individual achievement and local stories.
The Pickaway County Historical Society has a permanent exhibit of 68 framed color lithographs, along with Jones’s paint palette and one of the nests collected as a studio model.
Originally published in Pathways magazine, Spring 2019