Born in 1785, John James Audubon, grew up in an aristocratic French family. In 1803, in order to avoid service in Napoleon’s army, he came to America. There, he served as the overseer of his father’s farm which was located northwest of Philadelphia.
During his time on the farm, his responsibilities were few and his life was carefree. “Hunting, fishing, drawing, and music,” he wrote, “occupied my every moment.” He said “It was there that I commenced my simple and agreeable studies, with as little concern about the future as if the world had been made for me.”
Audubon roamed the countryside, collecting wildlife specimens which he later sketched. In a cave on the banks of Perkiomen Creek, he conducted the first bird banding in America. He also developed techniques for passing wires through freshly killed birds in order to fix them in the natural poses on which he based his sketches.
After marrying Lucy Bakewell, the daughter of a neighbor, Audubon traveled, earning his living as a portrait painter and music instructor. He sold the Pennsylvania property and moved his family to Kentucky where he opened a store. However, the business failed as Audubon neglected the store and turned his energies to his sketches.
At the age of 35 he decided to draw every bird in America. His financial success finally came went he went to England where subscribers made possible the publication of his 435 prints. Today, the largest book in the Library of Congress is John James Audubon’s Birds of America. The book is 39.37″ (1 meter) high.
I had the great pleasure of visiting Oakley Plantation in Louisiana, where Audubon worked for a period of time. You can read more about his time at Oakley in this book: