Dickinson, Ott, & Aoki’s writing on Memory and Myth at the Buffalo Bill Museum called to mind an experience I had while visiting the Audubon House in Key West a number of years ago. I had always known about John James Audubon and his artwork depicting birds. To me, his name was synonymous with conservation, nature, art, and birds. I loved that he produced so many detailed artworks of birds. And then I was disillusioned.
What happened is that the person working at the Audubon House told me how Audubon was able to make such detailed artistic studies of birds. He used to shoot them. And this person told me this specifically to impress upon me the seeming incongruity of Audubon shooting birds and being associated with conservation. I was blown away (pun intended).
Subsequently, I have been able to look at this again and I realized that I overlooked a very important fact: historical context. The man lived from 1785 to 1851. The mores of the time were different. His purpose probably wasn’t conservation, but rather artistic and/or scientific pursuit. So associating him with conservation wasn’t his doing and his method for getting a model was not all that extraordinary for his time.