February 17 – April 28, 2023

This spotlight exhibition presents the work of visiting poet and cultural ornithologist J. Drew Lanham. It is the latest body of writing from an on-going project which reconsiders with a “head and heart” approach the taxonomy and nomenclature of birds through the intersectional threads of race, place, and nature. Composed of twenty “feel notes” addressed to select Southeastern birds in John James Audubon's groundbreaking The Birds of America, each poem engages a deeply personal ornithology seeking to move avian identification from the pages of scientific field guides into a cultural “feeling guide,” where words render birds as "who's" rather than "what's."
Each week, viewers will have the opportunity to read two new avian “feel notes” presented alongside the corresponding hand-painted Audubon plate from the Museum’s original 1827-1830 edition. By inserting Lanham’s words directly into this visual dialogue, we seek to augment the work of Audubon and frame new conversations and thinking on the appreciation of birds and cultural integration into the history and future of conservation.

-Kelly S. Turner, Visiting Curator

Artist Statement

In this work, John James Audubon's masterful work will become the conduit for considering birds as unique living beings worthy of so much more than listing or objectifying to the canvas or painted page. This work will illuminate by an epistolary method ("notes to birds") the necessity of individual recognition beyond name, to move conversation and cultural considerations forward concurrently. In this reconciliation, The "Feel Guide," will help the viewer not just identify birds, but to identify with birds. Audubon will not disappear, but rather be drawn back into a uniquely prismed ornithology that takes history, current issues, and future possibilities into account.

Truth and inclusion will become "feel marks." This ornithology will expand the base of those considered in conservation and art beyond the traditional and often exclusionary audience of birders. This work is an act of arcing head to heart -- analytical thinking to evocative feeling -- such that in the end, the viewer leaves with adoration, appreciation, but also more questions than answers, about who birds are and what they mean personally and societally.

-J. Drew Lanham, Visiting Artist

Adopt-an-Audubon Plate

The Charleston Museum is excited to announce our Adopt-an-Audubon Plate Program, in which plates from Volume I of Birds of America are available for adoption. Proceeds raised will fund the preservation of these extraordinary watercolors ensuring that many generations to come will be able to experience their beauty.

Opportunities to adopt range from $600 for an individual plate to $3000 for a five-plate set. More than one plate or five-plate sets may be adopted at a time!

The conservation of the first five plates of The Birds of America, Volume 1 is supported by The Dewberry Foundation. A complete list of additional works available for conservation can be found here.

Proceeds will fund binding repairs, paper washing and paper repairs, leather repair, digitization, and a clamshell box for storage completed by the Charleston Library Society’s bindery services.

Benefits include:
  • Credit on the bird’s label whenever it is exhibited
  • Recognition on the Museum’s digital donor board in the main lobby
  • Museum memberships (depending upon adoption amount)
  • For adoptions of $6000 or more, a copy of our 250th anniversary book, The Charleston Museum: America’s First Museum
  • For adoptions of $9000 or more, an invitation to a private “behind the scenes” tour (up to four people) of the Museum’s Archives and Storeroom

Adopt-an-Audubon Plate

For tax purposes, The Charleston Museum is recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization by the Internal revenue Service, and your gift may be tax deductible. Please consult your tax advisor for further information.
Our Adopt-an-Audubon Plate Program is a means to support the Museum’s Archives collections and should in no way be construed as obtaining an ownership interest in these collections.