John James Audubon & Lucy Bakewell AudubonApril 26, 1785 - January 27, 1851 & January 18, 1787 - June 18, 1874
French-American naturalist and painter John James Audubon is best known for his study and illustrations of birds in their natural habitats. After a childhood spent largely outdoors in the French countryside Audubon trained briefly in Paris and in 1803 was sent to America to oversee his father’s estate – Mill Grove – near Philadelphia.
At Mill Grove, he met the great passions of his life: American birds and his neighbor’s daughter, Lucy Bakewell. Eighteen years old at the time of his arrival, John spent his time roaming the wooded hills along the Perkiomen Creek and the Schuylkill River hunting, observing, collecting, and sketching. During these years he built a substantial base of interest in ornithological art, and his experimentation resulted in rapid development of his skill as an artist.
While at Mill Grove he made drawings and performed the first recorded experiment of bird banding in America. Also, he developed his “wire armature,” a device that gave life to his freshly shot specimens and subsequently his drawings of the birds. This unique method of holding his specimens put him years ahead of his contemporaries. Many believe that in spite of the advantages of photography and state-of-the-art technology, no modern bird illustrator has equaled his achievements.
Interestingly, he had to take his work to London in order to publish The Birds of America. Audubon is best known today for his highly dramatic bird and animal watercolors, several of which were drawn in Pennsylvania.
English-born, Pennsylvania-raised Lucy Bakewell met and married John James in 1808. Lucy was a tower of strength to her husband as he struggled to find his calling. While John traveled as a portrait painter, music and fencing instructor and, eventually, painter of The Birds of America, Lucy remained at home to raise their two sons. She worked as a teacher, first in exchange for board in a friend’s home, then on her own. Later, she established a lucrative second school, where she was given a house and earned respect and social standing on her own – a remarkable feat in an era when women were barely allowed to earn wages. While John spent years in England, laboring over press plates and publishing challenges, Lucy supported him and their sons, working steadily behind the scenes to bring John’s book into print.
In addition to helping write and edit the entries for The Birds of America, she later joined John on his second trip to England, managing financial details and assisting as he planned his next book.
The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor offers Audubon’s Lehigh (http://delawareandlehigh.org/index.php/audubons-lehigh), a 53 -mile autotour that highlights John James Audubon’s 1829 visit to the Upper Lehigh River in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where he studied a variety of birds and other wildlife. This road trip retraces some of his footsteps through the “Great Pine Forest” and provides an opportunity to experience the natural beauty of the region and its rich industrial and natural heritage. Visitors will travel through the heart of the Pocono Mountains, enjoying scenic views, bird watching, historic sites, shops, and recreational areas.