Sunday, January 13, 2019

Audubon's Birds of America Re-Interpreted

Waterloo Courier (Waterloo IA), January 13, 2019
Above Screen grab of the cover page of the Sunday Living Section of the Waterloo Courier, January 13, 2019, with an article, written by Melody Parker, about an exhibition of Audubon-themed student posters at the Hartman Reserve Nature Center, in Cedar Falls IA. Many of the same posters were posted earlier on this blog in 2017.


The posters in this exhibit here were produced in the fall of 2017 by undergraduate students at the University of Northern Iowa. They resulted from a problem that was given in an introductory course in graphic design. When the course began, most of the students had little if any experience in designing, whether the process of layout (arranging parts within a page) or the use of appropriate software.

Each student was asked to design a suite of three posters that would be used to advertise an exhibition of the posters they themselves had made. Titles, dates, locations and other text components were provided, as was the agreed upon emphasis on the exhibition’s title, RARA AVIS: A Poster Exhibition About Audubon’s Birds.

All images used in the posters were extracted from online high resolution images from American naturalist John James Audubon’s famous book, The Birds of America, first published in 1827 and 1838. His paintings are now in public domain, out-of-copyright, and available freely for download at their large, original size.

The series of posters was given the name RARA AVIS to signal that these are not merely unaltered reproductions of Audubon’s original artwork. Instead, the problem required that each student reinterpret Audubon’s work. They were free to extract fragments from any of his paintings, to dissemble them, to remix and rearrange the parts. The Latin term rara avis (which translates literally as “rare bird”) is suitable for the eccentric results.

Some of the student designers whose work is represented have since graduated. The work of nine designers is shown, including Sophia Grover, Ross Hellman, Sydney Hughes, Lydia Madsen, Hanna Seggerman, Cheyenne Strelow-Varney, Mallory Thurm, Samantha White, and Charles Williams. The course instructor, UNI Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Scholar Roy R. Behrens, retired at the end of 2018 after 46 years of teaching.