It’s rare for the questions posed by seven-year-olds to result in more than a hurried answer from mom or dad, let alone anything with lasting beauty and utility. But seven-year-old Genevieve Jones is one of the exceptions. While making the journey to her grandmother’s house with her family, she encountered a bird’s nest. Showing it to her father, she posed a simple question: why wasn’t there a book she could use to figure out what kind of bird species made it? While Audubon and other naturalists had already created scientific illustrations of birds in the mid-1800s, remarkably, no one had focused on the nests and eggs of these birds.
The idea to make a book like this remained a frequent point of discussion as Genevieve grew into young adulthood. Eventually, she decided to do something about it — to finally make this book a reality. Her brother had offered to write text and help collect the nests as long as she would illustrate them. But it wasn’t until viewing Audubon’s ‘Birds of America‘ during a visit to the 1876 World’s Fair that she soon took him up on the offer. This meant the avid watercolorist would have to learn how to draw the lithographs for print and to hand-color each illustration. With childhood friend Eliza Jane Shulze, she did just that. Together they secured subscribers to help defray the cost (a common method of book publishing in the 1800s) and began to take precise measurements of nests and eggs to create life-sized illustrations in the manner of Audubon’s book.
Tragically, Jones caught typhoid and died shortly into production at the young age of 32. But this did not stop the project. Her family lovingly took up the mantle and spent years completing her vision, ‘Illustrations of the nests and eggs of birds of Ohio‘ as a tribute to her. Genevieve’s mother, Virginia Jones, took on illustration duties while her brother, Dr. Howard Jones, wrote the accompanying text.
It took seven years to complete this labor of love. And while the book wasn’t as successful as Audubon’s, the family did enter the book in the Columbian Exposition of 1893, earning a special certificate and bronze medal in the Women’s Pavilion Art Exhibition. Today, fewer than half the 100 proposed copies produced have been identified. We are fortunate to have two copies in the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library contains a full digital copy of the two-volume set. Additionally, there is more on the fascinating history of this family on our website. To learn even more, see the 2012 book ‘America’s Other Audubon‘ by Joy M. Kiser. In it, she chronicles the Jones family as they created this rare and wonderful work.