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‘Illustrating Animals’ Exhibition Opens Aug. 6 at UW Art Museum

July 28, 2016
drawing of cougar
Beth Van Hoesen’s “Maharani” is among works from “Audubon and Van Hoesen: Illustrating Animals” that will be on view at the UW Art Museum beginning Saturday, Aug. 6. (Gift of the E. Mark Adams and Beth Van Hoesen Adams Trust)

A new exhibition, “Audubon & Van Hoesen: Illustrating Animals,” will open Saturday, Aug. 6, at the University of Wyoming Art Museum. The exhibition will be on view through Saturday, Nov. 2.

“Audubon & Van Hoesen: Illustrating Animals” presents animal illustrator artists John James Audubon, John Woodhouse Audubon and Beth Van Hoesen. The artists depicted animal subjects with scientific devotion, emphasizing the importance of craftsmanship and technique in the creation of their artwork. 

John James Audubon was a renowned ornithologist, naturalist and wildlife artist. He extensively studied and documented all types of American birds in his major work, titled “The Birds of America (1827-1839).” That collection detailed birds in their natural habitat, through which he identified 25 new species.

Because of the difficulty of safely studying wild animals and seeking to illustrate accurate representations of the animals, he would observe them in cages or, more often, worked with specimens in which he used wires to prop them into a natural position, as if caught in motion. Through meticulous and concentrated examination of the specimen and extensive field notes, he created illustrations that were scientifically accurate as well as artistically successful. Audubon is universally recognized by art and natural history museums.

John Woodhouse Audubon continued his father’s work and assisted with the completion of several of the bird and mammal portfolios working side by side with his father. Although his career is often tied to that of his father, his contribution to early wildlife documentation is significant.

Working almost 150 years later, Van Hoesen’s attention to accuracy in her depictions of birds and animals is comparable to the Audubons. However, unlike John James Audubon and John Woodhouse Audubon, her approach was less scientific.

She drew from live subjects, always searching for the animal’s individual, specific personality in order to convey the “look” of life in her subjects. Working with live animals, Van Hoesen developed techniques, from her years of habitual drawing, to work quickly to capture a specific pose. By focusing purely on the animal, Van Hoesen placed her subject in isolation, stripping it of any outside context. The viewer is forced to look at the subject -- only the subject -- and it becomes obvious that it has been carefully observed and rendered technically correct. 

“These artists demonstrate that the art of illustrating animals, in both artistic and scientific perfection, are intrinsically connected and are not spontaneous, but born from keen observation and repetition,” says Nicole Crawford, curator of collections at the UW Art Museum.

“Audubon & Van Hoesen: Illustrating Animals” is presented in conjunction with “Waste Land: A Survey of Works by Brandon Ballengée, 1996-2016” by artist and biologist Brandon Ballengée, and is drawn from the Art Museum’s permanent collection.

For more information, call the Art Museum at (307) 766-6622, visit the website at, or follow the museum on Facebook and Instagram.

Through its “Museum as Classroom” approach, the UW Art Museum places art at the center of learning for all ages. Located in the Centennial Complex at 2111 Willett Drive in Laramie, the museum is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday hours are extended to 7 p.m. September through November and February through April. Admission is free.

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