Sunday, July 29, 2007

July 25, 2007

Hi, Sis~
Since I moved up to this cell on the second floor I've been able, through the use of a fourteen inch copper wire wrapped around the stump of the confiscated antenna on my little 5-inch TV, to pick up a couple of channels on the UHF bandwidth; in particular I now get PBS, one of my favorite stations, but one we cannot normally get unless you happen to occupy one of the few select cells on the second floor where reception is available. Anyway, I just watched a really good program about James Audubon and his struggle to publish his magnificent, gigantic The Birds of America book (called the "elephant folio" it was a huge book, with 435 life-sized color plates). Only about 200 copies of the book were made; engraved copper plates were first used to make the ink outline and shading of each image, and then each one was individually colored in with water colors. I've always loved these breath-takingly beautiful pictures; it's easy to understand how a collector could become obsessed with buying and collecting them, as well as Audubon's later published smaller engravings. After Audubon died his wide became destitute and sold off all his paintings and drawings, until finally she unloaded his original 435 copper plates for scrap (each plate weighed about 30 pounds). One by one the splendid plates were melted down (!!!) until a fourteen year old boy recognized what they were. Only 79 of the plates were saved from the smelter. What a loss! One of the ironies of Audubon's work is that while he's become an iconic representative of saving the environment and wildlife, he shot thousands upon thousands of birds in order to pose them for his paintings. He was a very prolific killer of the very birds he loved, though at the time, they were so abundant in America that is was inconceivable that their numbers could ever be substantially diminished. Yet a number of the birds he so lovingly depicted, like the beautiful passenger pigeon (which once numbered in the billions), were in fact driven to extinction by mankind. All we have now are Audubon's paintings and some dusty, moldy specimens stashed away in the dark bowels of some museums ...
Time for me to hit the hay, Sis. Give yourself a big hug for me!
With Love,

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