Wednesday, April 16, 2008

New Exhibit! Mashup #2: Audubon meets T.P. Thompson meets the Elusive Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

Opening this week -- Audubon meets T.P. Thompson meets the Elusive Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, the second in what we're calling an "exhibit mashup" -- bringing together a few things in an interesting way.

This exhibit focuses on J.J. Audubon, the ornithologist and artist; T.P. Thompson, a book collector; and the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird that was documented by Audubon and has recently been spotted and made international news.

The exhibit is inspired by the upcoming lecture and book signing on Thursday April 24th with UA professor, Dr. Michael Steinberg. Steinberg will discuss his new book, Stalking the Ghost Bird: The Elusive Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in Louisiana (LSU Press, 2008).

T.P. Thompson's books make up the foundation for the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library's Rare Books Collection. The library of over 10,000 items was purchased by The University of Alabama in 1938. Over four decades later, in the 1970s, the Hoole Library acquired the papers of T.P. Thompson. Thompson's papers provide great insight into his passionate hobby as a collector of books and other materials.

This exhibit includes maps and books from his collections as well as images and information that create an interesting portrait of the convergence of these two men and one very big and mysterious bird (Fact: Did you know that the ivory billed woodpecker stands about two feet tall and is the largest woodpecker in the United States!?).

One highlight of the exhibit is a portrait of Audubon, which has been purported to be the only self-portrait the artist ever did. This painting has been on display in the Hoole reading room for many years and has been moved to the lobby for this exhibit.

Another highlight of Thompson's collection and of the exhibit is an important association copy (a seven volume set) of the first octavo edition of Birds of America, published in 1839-1844 by the author & by J.B. Chevailier, Philadelphia. It is inscribed by Audubon and presented to his sister-in-law, Eliza Berthoud. (Image of Audubon's signature and inscription shown here).

T.P. Thompson's passion for collecting and his broad commitment to civic and charitable endeavors in New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th century are very evident in his manuscript collection, and are touched upon in this exhibit as well. He gave freely of his time and his funds for a great many causes, but even more remarkably, he readily opened his home to researchers so that they may use his library.

“Any student who desires to refer to my books
is welcome, as I look upon myself rather as a custodian, than an owner. Good books, while seemingly frail, outlive many generations of proprietors.” - T.P. Thompson

He made a request in his will that upon his death, his books would be made accessible to Southern students. They are, and continue to be, at the Hoole Library.

(Image of Thompson's hand written catalog card for the royal octavo Birds of America shown here)

Mashup #2: Audubon meets T.P. Thompson meets the Elusive Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is on display in the lobby of the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library and opens today, April 16, 2008. The Hoole Library is open Monday-Friday from 8 am - 5 pm with Thursday evening hours until 9 pm.

Additional resource: It should be noted that The University of Pittsburgh Library has developed a great digital project that allows users to search for Audubon plates by keyword. That site is available at

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