A few weeks ago, an article with enchanting pictures in the Los Angeles Times gave me the idea for this blog about “America’s Other Audubon.” Thanks to the Calendar section and Joy Kiser’s new book of the same name, I stumbled across an amazing woman, Genevieve Estelle Jones (1847-1879), who needed her own visit to Wildflower Junction.
In the mid-18oo’s, this little girl nicknamed “Gennie” loved accompanying her father, Dr. Nelson Jones, in his buggy on his medical rounds throughout the countryside near their Circleville, Ohio home. Hence the beginning of a lifelong passion for the natural world. To help heal her heartbreak over a broken betrothal, Gennie travelled to Philadelphia for the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 and discovered John James Audubon’s watercolors of birds. Struck by the beauty of his masterpieces, she decided to illustrate and publish a companion book with pictures of nests and eggs, subjects Audubon did not include in his portfolios.
Although her parents were initially alarmed at the expense of such an undertaking, they soon encouraged her to help distract her from her fragile emotions. Her brother Howard collected the specimens. Also a country doctor like his father, he wrote up the scientific field notes. Childhood friend Eliza Schultz helped Gennie sketch the eggs and nests. Through correspondence, they learned the lithography process and how to draw on both sides of 65-pound lithograph stones. Gennie’s father used his entire retirement savings to produce the books, selling subscriptions to museums, ornithology journals, a Harvard student named Theodore Roosevelt, and even President Rutherford B. Hayes.
Dr. Jones’s plan was to produce 100 books sold by subscription in five parts. Colored books would cost $5.00. Black and white versions, $2.50. Part One was released in July 1879 to enthusiastic reviews by naturalists and ornithologists.
Tragically, Gennie died only one month after the release at age 32, from a horrific three-week battle with typhoid. In memory of their beloved sister and daughter, her family continued working on the project. Seven years after her death, the complete “Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio” was first published.
It was definitely a labor of love. For better lighting, Dr. Nelson Jones added a two-room studio with skylight to their barn. Before Eliza left to study art in New York, she taught Gennie’s mother Virginia how to draw on the lithograph stones. More than ninety copies of every life-sized, black and white illustration had to be hand-colored. Two local young women hired to help used the same imported watercolors and paper that Audubon had used.
More tragedy struck when Gennie’s brother and mother were also stricken with typhoid, leaving Howard Jones with a damaged heart and mother Virginia nearly blind. Only 26 intact copies of the original 90 books have been located.
I love hearing the birds chirp and sing outside my writing room window. Not long ago, I found a giant American crow’s nest that had blown down from a big tree in our front yard. It sure wasn’t as pretty as these beautiful Genevieve Jones illustrations from Princeton Architectural Press.
Any bird watchers out there?
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