A Country No More: Rediscovering the Landscapes of John James Audubon, by Krista Elrick
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About the Event
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This beautiful book, by Krista Elrick, with an introduction by James David Moran, essays by Gregory Nobles and Mary Anne Redding, and a conversation with the author by Joanna Hurley & Mary Anne Redding, offers a thoughtful meditation on the celebrated naturalist John James Audubon and the world he glimpsed in the 1820s and 30s.
In 2010, when photographer Krista Elrick began traversing John James Audubon country in search of the birds the nineteenth-century American naturalist observed, painted, and wrote about, she encountered scarcely a sighting. Instead, she found the lushly forested watersheds and waterways that Audubon had passionately described in his journals vastly altered with many of the bird species extinct and their supporting habitat all but disappeared. Industrial buildings, parking lots, and strip malls had overtaken much of the area, edging out the natural world. It was a country no more.
With a vintage Hasselblad film camera in hand, Elrick traveled more than 45,000 miles over ten years, following in the footsteps of Audubon as she sought clues to what had happened to these places and to the animals and peoples who once lived there. Starting at his home in Mill Grove near Philadelphia, she retraced Audubon’s many journeys to the bluffs of Cincinnati overlooking the Ohio River; to the key port town of Henderson, Kentucky; to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and the burgeoning frontier towns of Natchez in Mississippi and St. Francisville and New Orleans in Louisiana; then back east to Charleston in South Carolina and St. Augustine and Key West in Florida on the Atlantic Coast; and on to far West and the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers; and on a final journey to Audubon’s gravesite in the Trinity Church Cemetery in New York City. What a journey.
Audubon’s approach to painting birds was unique. He would kill however many birds he needed, brought them back to a studio or a room where he was lodging, constructed scenes with backdrops from a variety of locales, and rendered them in the paintings we revere today. Elrick responds to that approach by creating collages of her own, integrating the black-and-white images she made of the places Audubon and she traveled through with historic bank notes, period maps, and other ephemera that yield fascinating insights into the landscapes of Audubon today. And we see the changes and resulting effects on the natural world and its species as well as on the lives of the Native Americans and African Americans who once occupied the areas during Audubon’s day.
In her research Elrick also discovered—as his biographers have—that Audubon himself was something of an enigma, a fabulist who told enchanting yet often conflicting stories about his own history and identity and what he saw in the field. Elrick’s book offers us a fascinating compendium that gives us a fresh and provocative perspective on Audubon—the man and the artist—his times and enduring legacy.
A Country No More is just the kind of obsessive journey of beauty and healing that makes so much sense now, to help us understand how we have arrived at this place as a country and a world. —Alex Harris, photographer and a founder of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
About the Author & Contributors
Krista Elrick has been an exhibiting artist and activist for more than thirty-five years. She has worked with scientists and Indigenous peoples throughout her career, all of whom have helped her to reframe and refine her ideas about environmental and cultural change. Other books she has contributed images to include Imagine a City that Remembers: The Albuquerque Rephotographic Project, by Anthony Anella and Mark Childs (University of New Mexico Press, 2018), Grasslands / Separating Species, with photographs by Michael Berman, Dana Fritz, David Taylor, and Jo Whaley, and essays by William deBuys, Mary Anne Redding, and Rebecca Solnit (Radius Books 2009). She lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A Country No More is her first solo book.
Joanna Hurley has spent her career in book publishing. An award-winning publicist, she is also a co-founder of Radius Books, and former board chair of CENTER, a not-for-profit organization that honors and supports gifted and committed photographers. She is currently an agent/producer of fine art and photography books based in Santa Fe, NewMexico. www.hurleymedia.com
James David Moran recently retired as Vice President for Programs and Outreach at the American Antiquarian Society, where he oversaw programs for students and teachers in grades K-12, undergraduate classes and seminars, short- and long-term academic fellowships, the Society’s program in the History of the Book in American Culture, and the Center for Historic American Visual Culture. https://www.americanantiquarian.org
Gregory Nobles is Professor of History Emeritus at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he spent thirty-three years as a faculty member and administrator. His previous books include John James Audubon: The Nature of the American Woodsman (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), Whose American Revolution Was It? Historians Interpret the Founding, with Alfred F. Young (New York University Press, 2011), and American Frontiers: Cultural Encounters and Continental Conquest (Hill and Wang, 1998).
Mary Anne Redding has more than thirty-five years’ experience as a curator, archivist, librarian, educator, arts administrator, and writer. Formerly the chief curator of the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and curator for the Marion Center of Photographic Arts and chair of the photography department at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, she is currently an independent curator based in North Carolina.