ab_WildTurkeyMaleThe USCB Hilton Head Gateway Campus Library is currently hosting an exhibition about the artists and naturalists who first explored the wonders of South Carolina. The exhibition features a selection of illustrated books by John James Audubon and Mark Catesby. In addition, other 18th and early 19th century nature artists are discussed and reproductions of engravings from Audubon’s double-elephant folio, The Birds of America, Clara Maria Pope’s red and white camellias, and Mark Catesby’s turtle dove are on display.

Long before there were cameras, smart-phones, maps or GPS, intrepid scientist-explorers traveled through Carolina and the South discovering the region’s rich and varied natural history. The hand-colored engravings recording their discoveries are now among the most-prized sources on early America.

The exhibition is drawn from USC Columbia’s Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, which has been collecting natural history for two hundred years. The collections include original editions of Mark Catesby’s Natural History of the Carolinas (1729-43) and a set of John James Audubon’s double-elephant folio Birds of America (1827-1839) that the library bought new when it was first published.

Both Catesby and Audubon traveled through the South Carolina Low Country, depicting local birds and plants. Audubon used South Carolina scenes in the background for some of his paintings, and later collaborated with a Charleston scientist, the Rev. John Bachman, on a second great illustrated work, Quadrupeds of North America (1845-48).

Several of the naturalists, including Audubon, also published vivid and very readable written records of their travels, now valued as pioneer works of nature writing.

A larger version of the exhibition was first mounted by Patrick G. Scott for the opening of Greenville’s Upcountry History Museum, where it drew over 10,000 visitors in four months. It has since been on display at USC Lancaster, Hickory Hill House Museum in Thomson, Georgia, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts at Old Salem Village, North Carolina, and in modified form at the Sandcastle on Kiawah Island.

On display at USCB’s Hilton Head Gateway Campus library through October 17, the exhibition is open during regular library hours, and admission is free. For directions or further information, call 843-208-8022.

See also “It’s Natural” by Dr. Joe Staton, Biology professor at USCB.