Located within the John James Audubon State Park, just outside Henderson Kentucky, the Audubon Memorial Museum honors the legacy of the famous artist and ornithologist. The park was dedicated in 1934 and many of its buildings, to include the museum, were built by members of the Depression Era Civilian Conservation Corps. The museum opened in 1938 and the entire park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
Nestled within the beautiful natural landscape of John
James Audubon State Park, the Audubon Memorial Museum commemorates the life and
legacy of one of the most prolific painters of North American birds. Born in 1785 in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now
Haiti), John James Audubon was raised in France by his father, a naval officer
and former plantation owner, and adoptive mother. Though he failed in his early
military studies, he demonstrated a keen interest in the outdoors, collecting
bird eggs and nests, hunting, and fishing. He immigrated to the United States in
1803 and settled at his father’s property in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, where he
explored the natural world through natural science experiments, taxidermy, and
Business opportunities brought Audubon, his wife Lucy Bakewell, and
his business partner to Kentucky. After opening a general store in Louisville,
Audubon moved his business and family to the quiet, rural town of Henderson in
1810. Though the business was short-lived, the Audubons stayed in Henderson for
about ten years. Here, Audubon began to cultivate his career as an ornithologist.
After leaving Kentucky, he traveled throughout the United States studying birds
and painting. His seminal work, The Birds
of America (1827-1839) was an exhaustive record of 497 bird species that
earned him popularity and the accolades of numerous artists and scientists.
Audubon’s work stood out not only in its scope, but also in its style. He
painted dramatic and expressive compositions that gave a sense of the birds’ appearances,
behaviors, and habitats. Since his death in 1851, Audubon remains one of the
most well-known artists of natural history.
Audubon’s name has become synonymous with the study of
birds and nature. John James Audubon State Park is one of numerous places named
in his honor, including parks, museums, towns, and the Audubon Society
organization, founded in 1905. Interest in commemorating Audubon’s life in
Henderson began in the early twentieth century and culminated in the Audubon
State Park’s establishment in 1934. The museum had been part of the park’s original
plans laid out by the Henderson Audubon Society. Built by the Civilian
Conservation Corps, the museum was designed in the style of a French inn in
recognition of Audubon’s French Heritage. It features a circular tower that
contains exterior niches for nesting birds.
It also features a bird observation room with binoculars available upon
request, and it is, as one would expect, surrounded by nature and bird
habitats. Establishing the park and museum helped boost the local economy during the Great Depression.
The museum’s most significant possessions include
numerous original pieces painted by Audubon as well as personal artifacts and furniture that belonged to the family. The collection began with art donated by
Alice Tyler, the widow of Audubon’s great-grandson in 1938. That collection was purchased in 1994 and
other pieces have since been added to the already impressive collection. Included
within the collection is original paintings such as the American Bald Eagle, the rare double-elephant folios of The Birds of America, and handwritten journals. The museum went through a large renovation in
1992-93 and now houses one of the world’s largest collection of original
Audubon art. The museum also boasts a small theater in which patrons can view
an educational film about Audubon and his work, and various interpretive