The exhibition includes artworks, rare books and artifacts that document the beginnings of avian study in the U.S. Photo: Courtesy
The exhibition includes artworks, rare books and artifacts that document the beginnings of avian study in the U.S. Photo: Courtesy

New exhibition celebrates drawing and writing about birds


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Since its founding in 1812, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (the Academy) has built and cared for its world-class collections of more than 19 million specimens, serving as a treasured resource for scientists and nature enthusiasts around the world. Throughout 2023, the Academy is also celebrating Biodiversity Year, continuing its innovative research and community engagement to support the remarkably diverse tapestry of life found on Earth.

Housing one of the largest and most taxonomically complete bird collections in the world, the Academy inaugurated last May 20, 2023 the exhibition Illuminating Birds: Drawing as a Way of Knowing to celebrate ornithology – or the study of birds – through artworks, rare books and artifacts that document the beginnings of avian study in the U.S. Part gallery and part creative studio,  Illuminating Birds will share writings and artworks from the Academy’s rich collections while also inspiring visitors to create their own with imaginative prompts. The exhibition will be available to the public until October 15, 2023. 

“With more than 7,000 different species of birds represented in our collections, the Academy continues to be a leading institution in global ornithological research,” said Academy President and CEO Scott Cooper. “This exhibit not only celebrates our universal wonder and appreciation of birds, but also examines the scientific, historical and artistic implications of their study.”

Artworks by Alexander Wilson, Elizabeth and John Gould, John James Audubon, Edward Lear and Louis Agassiz Fuertes from the Academy’s archives and collections will be on display, documenting the beginnings of the scientific study of birds — as well as the complex cultural aspects they carry. Colorful early birding field guides and hand-painted magic lantern slides will demonstrate the role that illustration has played in popularizing birding and advancing the conservation movement.

Surrounded by historical artworks, visitors will also be encouraged to artistically engage through nature journaling and drawing. The exhibit’s in-house Avian Art Studio will inspire creative exploration of specimens, field notes, an extraordinary “commonplace book,” feathers and prompts developed by the Drexel’s Writers Room and many others.

Over the course of the exhibition, visitors will be able to watch the development of a mural unfold by Avian Artist-in-Residence Jane Kim. The Academy, in partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia, has commissioned Kim to create a new mural for Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood, reflecting local concerns related to biodiversity loss and climate change. A visual artist, science illustrator and the founder of Ink Dwell, Kim has created large-scale public art across the country, including the Wall of Birds at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and has produced works for the National Aquarium, the de Young Museum, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and more. She is the creator of the Migrating Mural campaign, a series of public installations that highlight wildlife along migration corridors shared with people. Kim has a BFA in printmaking from RISD and received a master’s certificate in science illustration from California State University Monterey Bay.

Illuminating Birds is free with general admission ticket purchase.

For more information about Illuminating Birds and special exhibit happenings, please visit

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