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Storyteller to present 'Adventures With Audubon' at McHenry County Historical Museum

Celebrated painter, naturalist and explorer John James Audubon was many things before he came to symbolize the modern conservation movement.

He ran a gristmill, lead mine and general store. The store ultimately failed and resulted in his brief jailing for unpaid debts.

After moving to Kentucky – and then Louisiana – Audubon became progressively more interested in nature.

In New Orleans, Aububon supported his growing family by painting portraits on the street and teaching drawing. It wasn’t until the publishing of his “Birds of America” in 1827 that fame and fortune began to shine upon the Haitian-born French immigrant.

“He had a real appreciation for our connection to the wild world,” said Brian “Fox” Ellis of downstate Bishop Hill.

Join Ellis, a fellow naturalist and storyteller, at 3 p.m. Monday as he presents “Adventures With Audubon” at the McHenry County Historical Museum, 6422 Main St., Union.

Hear about Audubon’s adventures as he strived to become the first person to draw every bird in North America – gleaned from Audubon’s own journals, essays and letters to friends and colleagues.

“This was one of the first characters that I began to portray 20 years ago,” said Ellis, 56. “He wrote 50 short stories about his adventures, which makes it really easy for me to step into his shoes.”

Audubon settled on a plan to chronicle all 435 bird species in America. According to the National Audubon Society, which bears his name, Audubon ventured mostly on foot into the wilderness to document his subjects’ feeding preferences; calls and songs; courtship rituals; and other unique characteristics. His paintings showed the birds’ typical behavior in their natural habitats. Several of the species that he painted – including the passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet and ivory-billed woodpecker – now are extinct.

“Because he kept a journal everywhere he went, whenever I travel and tell stories, they are based on what he said 120 years ago,” Ellis said. “It melds together.”

Upcoming programs in the McHenry County Historical Society’s 33rd annual Sampler Series include:

• “A Peek into the American Indian Way of Life Through Their History and Oral Traditions” at 7 p.m. April 8 – This presentation by Freeport’s Kim Sigafus invites the audience to enter the world of the Native American. Discover what it once was to be native and what it means to be native now. An Ojibwa, Sigafus will be dressed in her traditional native regalia and will present on Native American culture through oral traditions, language and history. She will discuss Native American encampment life and will drum and sing an Ojibwa lullaby. A traditional recipe handout will be available, and there will be a Q&A at the end of the presentation.

• “Marshall Field’s and Chicago” at
3 p.m. April 25 – McHenry County College history instructor Sarah Sullivan explores the events and personalities that made Marshall Field and Co. Chicago’s store and its founder a titan of retail. Field introduced the one-price system, bought and sold for cash and permitted exchange of goods. He was a trailblazer in the addition of restaurants, personal shoppers, home delivery, a department dedicated to interior decorating and the creation of a bargain basement to retail. Significant Chicago events connected with Field include the Chicago Fire, Eastland Disaster and 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. A patron of the arts, Field was instrumental in the creation of the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Science and Industry and the Chicago Historical Society (Chicago History Museum).

All programs are at the museum, 6422 Main St., Union. A $10 donation is requested for individual programs. The Audubon and Native American programs are made possible through a grant from Illinois Humanities. 

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