Birds of the First Light and Longhouses:
The Prints of John James Audubon

From the Collection of the New Bedford Free Public Library

Curated by Louis Doherty
at New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks!
June 1 – October 14, 2018
Reception: Friday, Jun 1, 2018, from 6-8pm

The New Bedford community is fortunate to be one of the107 public venues worldwide to have the full collection of 435 original hand-colored engravings. In 1866, whaling merchant James Arnold donated four volumes of John James Audubon’s first edition double-elephant folio of The Birds of America to the New Bedford Free Public Library.

Sixty of these engravings, many of which have not been seen in more than 30 years, will be on display at the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! in an exhibition entitled Birds of the First Light and Longhouses, June 1 through October 14, 2018. The curator of the exhibit is Louis Doherty, a founder of the New Bedford Art Museum, and acknowledged Audubon expert, with extensive experience in Audubon’s work.


Established in 1852, the New Bedford Free Public Library is among the earliest free municipal libraries in the United States. The core of the library’s original holdings contained books, periodicals and other materials purchased from the New Bedford Social Library (founded in 1807), which had assimilated the collections of the Encyclopedia Society, Bedford Library Society, Athenaeum, and Lyceum. Since 1866, the library has amassed extensive holdings of printed works, manuscripts, graphics, fine art and objects used for research, exhibit and educational purposes.

The art collection is on public view throughout the Main Library, in the Art Room located on the third floor, and also showcased in City Gallery exhibits at the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks!

Art Room Hours
Monday & Thursday: 12:00pm – 9:00pm
Tuesday & Wednesday: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Friday & Saturday: Limited hours

About the exhibition

Audubon Original Prints of the Birds of America: The fluctuating bird population of the Northeast. When Europeans came to New England and New York, the Wampanoag, Iroquois, and other native tribes were peopling the area. These settlers cleared the land of its trees and established farms. After a few centuries, industrialization prompted people to move to towns and cities in search of jobs. As a result, the birds were negatively affected.  Overhunting, habitat loss, pollution, climate change, use of DDT and other pesticides were only some of the consequences. Today, many of the feathered families that were present 75 years ago are either extinct or in decline.

On the positive side, many avian species are growing in the North East. The use of bird feeders, the increase of wildlife refuges and other protected lands, the building of nest platforms are just some of the reasons the bird population remains. The exhibition of John James Audubon prints will start with 31 bird species that are declining today on exhibit in New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks!’s Skylight Gallery. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, the prints will slowly be replaced, a few at a time, by 31 species of birds that are increasing in New England and New York. The exhibition literally evolves, beckoning bird lovers to return to the Museum for something new several times throughout the run of the exhibition. Viewers will have the opportunity to view 45 Audubon prints that have not been public for decades.

– Louis Doherty, Curator

To mount this exciting exhibition, the New Bedford Free Public Library and the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! have joined forces, establishing The Audubon Preservation Partnership.

 One of the primary missions of The Audubon Preservation Partnership is to repair and conserve part of the collection. Thirty-six of the 60 engravings to be exhibited need restoration. The partnership will raise funds for the conservation matting and restoration of these engravings.  These conservation efforts will preserve these engravings for the viewing pleasure of present and future generations.

Click here to learn more about Audubon Preservation Partnership.

Click here to donate to the Audubon Preservation Partnership.

Partners and Sponsors

New Bedford Free Public Library

Audubon Preservation funding levels

Great Auks ($3000)

Friends of the Library

Ravens ($2000)

John and Nancy Braitmayer
Elise Mock

Wood Ducks  ($1000)

Allan and Priscilla Ditchfield

Blue Herons ($500)

Mary Jean and Bill Blasdale
John and Laurie Bullard
George Mock III, Nye Lubricants