Before Audubon, there was Mark Catesby

Mark Catesby

For the Autumn 2021 issue of Fine Books magazine, I contributed a feature on Mark Catesby who visualized the vibrancy of North American nature a century before John James Audubon. I talked to historians, authors, and curators who have investigated his work and its impact:

With the assistance of Indigenous guides, he journeyed through environments ranging from dense maritime oak forests and valleys where herds of bison roamed, to the reefs of the West Indies, producing the first major illustrated survey of southeastern North American nature: the two-volume Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands published in 11 parts between 1729 and 1747. It would ultimately include 220 illustrations that pair birds and other animals with their ecologically significant plants, something few naturalists had done before. His lively watercolors and the subsequent bookplates portrayed in vivid color and animated detail how species interact with the natural world, such as a crested heron bending its long neck to catch a lizard or a brown thrasher perched on a chokecherry tree, delicately taking a ripe berry in its beak.

Find the full story in the print issue of Fine Books.