Destroying Octavo volumes for the birds

Destroying Octavo volumes for the birds

RENSSELAERVILLE — History is in jeopardy.

So says Roswell Eldridge, M.D., who has been tracking disconcerting behavior of eBay auctioneers and buyers on the Internet.

People are tearing drawings from intact volumes by the renowned American artist and naturalist John James Audubon. They are then selling the paintings for thousands of dollars on eBay.

An event this week may only compound the problem.

On Wednesday, John James Audubon: Drawn From Nature, will premiere on the Public Broadcasting Service channel at 9 p.m. The film premiered in Rensselaerville last October. A large audience is expected for the TV broadcast, a scenario about which Eldridge has mixed feelings. The film, Eldridge predicts, will generate interest and a surge will ensue with people "wanting a piece of Audubon."

As an alternative to pilfering from the Octavo volumes, Eldridge is proposing art lovers buy a reproduction rather than destroy a book. Thirty reproductions are on display this summer at the visitor center at the Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville.

Eldridge put up the initial funds for the documentary. Though the film could generate public interest and ultimately lead to destruction of the Octavo volumes, Eldridge said he didn’t hesitate to put up the initial funds.
"What I wanted to do was inform folks first of all about this guy Audubon, who is remarkable. To get them interested in Audubon, and not just as an artist but as a naturalist — the most honored naturalist of his day," Eldridge said.

Adamant about preserving Audubon’s work, Eldridge held a virtual party in April for Audubon’s 222nd birthday. And, he created a website — — which is dedicated to telling Audubon’s story.

The Octavo volumes are the only place a person can get an impression of Audubon not only as a painter, but as a naturalist and a writer, Eldridge said. Audubon’s observations are recorded in print alongside his famous paintings.

At 73, Eldridge said his time and finances are running short.

Just outside the visitor center at the Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville, Eldridge held in his hands one book of a 10 -volume set purchased by his father when he was 20 and attending college.

As he leafs through its yellowing pages, Eldridge, who calls the Octavo "a lovely old book," searches for his favorite passages from a volume.

One passage, written nearly 200 years ago, tells of Audubon’s banding birds.
"This is what I grew up with — these observations of his," Eldridge said. "And they’re very charming and informative and well done."

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