“Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio” Is an Exceptional Tribute to One of My Kindred Spirits

Purple Martin, Plate XXVIII, Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, 1886, Ohio Historical Society Archives/LibraryAfter 11 years, my friends at the Ohio Historical Society have gotten used to my exclaiming over some find in the Archives/Library or carrying on over an object from the History Collections so much that the resident mockingbird at the collections facility has plenty to imitate. When I asked to see a few of my very favorite things recently, I was even more captivated by them as I was when I first pored over them a decade ago.

If you’ve read America’s Other Audubon, by Joy Kiser, you know what’s ahead. But if that book is new to you, I hope this will encourage you to pick up a copy of this wonderful reproduction of the hand-colored lithographic plates from Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, published in 1886. Whether or not you’re into birds, the story behind this incredible work shows what can happen when a supportive family not only encourages a gifted young woman’s interest, but also has the tenacity to overcome an unexpected turn of events and see her worthwhile goal through to the end.

Genevieve Estelle Jones is the heroine of this story. I first met her when I read “Ohio’s Lady Audubon: Genevieve Jones,” Kiser’s article in the March-April 2000 issue of the Ohio Historical Society’s TIMELINE.

Genevieve was born in 1847 to Nelson E. Jones, a medical doctor who was an amateur naturalist, and his wife, Virginia. The family moved from Cleveland to Circleville in 1853; that same year, Genevieve’s brother, Howard, was born. Both children inherited their father’s love of nature. When she wasn’t sewing, embroidering, or painting china, Genevieve joined her brother in hunting for bird nests and eggs.

Genevieve and I would have been fast friends. As if her self-consciousness over her flushed “brandy face” from rosacea wasn’t enough, her intelligence set her apart from her peers. When she found a kindred spirit in a well-traveled musician ten years her senior, she was discouraged from marrying him because he had a weakness for alcohol.

In 1876, sad Genevieve traveled to Philadelphia to visit relatives. She went to the Centennial International Exhibition, saw John James Audubon’s Birds of America, and remembered how she had unsuccessfully looked for a book about the nests of American birds. She came home determined to create it, and her family offered to help.

Genevieve planned to issue 100 copies of her book by subscription. The book would contain 23 parts; three plates with text would be issued every three months. Colored plates cost $5; uncolored plates went for $3.

Howard gathered the nests and eggs and wrote descriptive field notes about them. Genevieve’s friend, Eliza Shulze, helped her with drawing and coloring the illustrations. When the project outgrew the family’s dining room, Nelson built a two-story addition to the family’s barn to house it.

Lithograph stone for Downy Woodpecker, Plate LVI of the Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio H 85078, Ohio Historical SocietyGenevieve and Eliza used lithography to print their illustrations. In this technique, the original illustration is drawn with a crayon on the surface of a stone. After the stone is treated with a mixture of acid and gum Arabic, it is inked, paper is placed on top of it, and it is run through a special press to transfer the image to the paper. The Robert Clarke Company of Cincinnati provided paper for illustrations, while the Adolph Krebs Lithographic Company, also from Cincinnati, corresponded with the young women about lithographic technique and sold them the 65-pound stones and supplies used to print the lithographs. Here’s the lithograph stone from the Ohio Historical Society’s collections that was used for Plate LVI, a Downy Woodpecker’s nest.

A lithograph print of Eliza’s drawing of a Warbling Vireo (Vireo Gilvus) nest, dating from 1878, is also in the museum collections. Marked “First Drawing in Stone by E.J. Shulze,” the lithograph print is enhanced by watercolors.

Warbling Vireo print for the Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, H 87633, Ohio Historical SocietyOn the back of the print, you’ll find an ink and pencil sketch of a nest in a tree branch.

Reverse of the Warbling Vireo print for Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, H 87633, Ohio Historical SocietyThe lithograph stones made several round-trips between Circleville and Cincinnati, accompanied by corrected proofs, before the illustrations were finished. Here’s an example of a corrected proof of Plate XXVI, a Chipping Sparrow’s nest. A penciled mark with instructions near the edge of the limb reads, “Cut off the end of the branch to this mark,” Three eggs were drawn in with pencil at the bottom right

Illustration of a Chipping Sparrow’s nest, with cropping instructions, for Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, H 87638, Ohio Historical Society

I thought of those “metamorphosis” books or “Harlequinades” – the moveable books with split-page illustrations that London publisher Robert Sayer produced in the 18th century – when I saw these three panels. Illustrations of the nests and eggs of a Chimney Swift and a Swamp Sparrow are on one side…

Illustrations with watercolor tests for the Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, H 87678, Ohio Historical Society… and watercolor tests are on the other side.

Watercolor tests for the Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, H 87678, Ohio Historical Society

The first part of Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of the Birds of Ohio was published and mailed to 20 subscribers in July 1879. Later, the number of subscribers increased to 39, including Rutherford B. Hayes and Theodore Roosevelt.

That same summer, Genevieve got typhoid fever. After a three-week illness, she died on August 17, 1879 at the age of 32. Her grief-stricken suitor later committed suicide from a morphine overdose. Front cover of Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, 1879, Ohio Historical Society Archives/Library

According to Kiser, Genevieve completed five lithographic plates before her death. One was of a wood thrush’s nest collected on May 30, 1877 from a hawthorn tree in a damp wood at Circleville (Plate II). “The light fluffy leaves of the foundation, the mossy branches and emerald foliage, the boggy earth and rank grass beneath, together formed a picture beautiful and rustic, a fitting symbol of the quiet wood, the drear repose in which this brilliant songster so much delights,” the description reads in part.

An Indigo Bird (Cyanospiza cyanea)’s nest, taken May 28, 1877 from an elder bush (Plate IV), was another. “Until Fall, his spirited warblings can be heard along the public roads and by-ways, from the humblest bush to the topmost branch of the forest tree, the brilliantly plumed male pours forth his melodies, seeming to make of the summer months one continual rouPlate XV, Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, Ohio Historical Society Archives/Librarynd of holidays,” the book says.

The nest of a Kingbird, or “Beebird,” (Tyrannus carolinensis), taken in June 1877 from a sycamore growing on the bank of a canal in southern Pickaway County (Plate VI); a Pewit Flycatcher (Sayornis fuscus) nest (Plate X); and the nest of a Summer Warbler (Dendroeca aestiva), taken from a small elm on the bank of the Scioto River during the last week of May, 1878 (Plate XV) were the other three. “It is representative to me of strength, comfort, beauty, every thing necessary for a cozy summer home,” the Joneses wrote of the Summer Warbler’s nest.

Virginia completed the book as a memorial to Genevieve. She hired two local girls to help color 50 copies of each lithograph. When her vision was damaged by typhoid fever in 1881, she hired Josephine Klippart, a painter and illustrator from Columbus, and Josephine’s mother, Emeline, to help color the plates. Howard finished the text.

Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio was published in 1886, with 329 pages of text and 68 colored lithograph plates in folio format. It was exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago and received a bronze medal.

My most special pen pals will receive a greeting from me on one of the Nests and Eggs Notecards from Princeton Architectural Press, publisher of America’s Other Audubon. Six different images from the book are on 12 notecards with descriptive captions on the reverse.  

This entry was posted in Art, Birds, Books, History, Ohio, Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society), Special Collections. Bookmark the permalink.

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