The Cleveland Public Library is fortunate to own a complete set of the Bien edition of John James Audubon’s masterpiece, The Birds of America. The 2nd edition, reissued by J.J. Audubon’s son, John Woodhouse Audubon, seven years after his father’s death was an ambitious project taken on to ease the family’s financial difficulties. The American publisher Roe Lockwood Co. was enlisted to publish the book and German-American lithographer Julius Bien was hired to recreate Audubon’s masterpiece.
As a skilled printmaker, Julius Bien used the emerging print technology of chromolithography to achieve the look of a hand-colored print at a much lower cost. The monumental task or reproducing The Birds of America proved to be anything but inexpensive and was very time consuming, and the cost of printing plus the outbreak of the Civil War bankrupted the project. The publisher was only able to complete 150 of the 435 bird species from the original on 105 plates, and it has been estimated that less than 100 sets were issued. Despite this, the 1860 Bien edition is considered the most beautiful example of chromolithography in America, making it an American masterpiece in its own right.
According to WorldCat, as of 2011 the Cleveland Public Library is one of only 16 libraries in the world that owns a complete 1860 Bien edition of The Birds of America.
The Cleveland Public Library celebrates this masterpiece with a lecture series presented by local Audubon experts every Saturday during the month of April.
April 2, 2011 1-2pm
Harvey Webster from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History presents on Audubon and the Allure of Birds. On Display: Pages 1-20 of Birds of America (Bien edition)
April 9, 2011 1-2pm
James McCarty from the Cleveland Plain Dealer presents on The Birds and Birders of Northeast Ohio. On Display: Pages 21-42 of Birds of America (Bien edition)
April 16, 2011 1-2pm
Sarah Mabey, Ph.D., Ornithologist from Hiram College and representative of the Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland presents on Conservation and the Nature of Birds. On Display: Pages 43-64 of Birds of America (Bien edition)
April 23, 2011 1-2pm
On Display: Pages 65-84 of Birds of America (Bien edition)
April 30, 2011 1-2pm
Henry Adams, Ph.D., Art Historian from Case Western Reserve University presents on the Art of Audubon. On Display: Pages 85-105 of Birds of America (Bien edition)