Genevieve & Virginia Jones

Portrait

Even death will not stop us


Genevieve Jones, known to her friends as Gennie, was shy, tall, and shaken by persistent anxiety from living her teenage years during the U.S. Civil War, but Gennie had found true love. Her fiancé was a gifted musician and literary critic, and sometimes, a drunk. Eventually, his struggle with alcoholism became so disturbing to Gennie's parents, they broke off her engagement just before her 30th birthday. Broken-hearted, Gennie fled to Philadelphia to stay with her friend Eliza. And in Philadelphia, where the Centennial International Exhibition was in full spectacular display, Genevieve Jones saw Audubon’s seminal book The Birds of America, and in those beautiful illustrations she found a new mission for her life.

Gennie had always loved birds, and often rode along when her father's Dr. Nelson made house calls, stopping along the way to collect nests and eggs to add to their cabinet of curiosities. As a child she had discovered spotted delicate birds eggs that she was unable to identify in existing ornithology books. At the Centennial Exhibition she discovered that even Audubon, godfather of bird-loving scientists, had made no thorough study of nests and eggs, including them only as aesthetic props in his illustrations.

A bold plan

On her return home, Gennie's parents recognized her profound depression, and encouraged her to take on a childhood dream—to create her own encyclopedic illustrated tome documenting birds' eggs and nests. The project, which would be called Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, aimed to document the 130 species common to her home state. As Jones set to work with her friend Eliza, her father drafted a desperate plan to fund the enormously expensive project through a multi-part subscription priced at $5 in color and $2 for black and white, which in 2020 would amount to about $130 and $52 per volume — a significant commitment that would only just break even after the expensive lithographic printing.

To the surprise of the ornithology community, Gennie and Eliza turned out to be a scientific illustrator of astounding precision and grace. When her first three prints were complete and distributed for review, the ornithology bulletin editor Elliott Coues wrote “I had no idea that so sumptuous and elegant a publication was in preparation, and am pleased that what promises to be one of the great illustrated works on North American Ornithology should be prepared by women.”

The first volume was so well received the publication doubled its subscribers, which included the former U.S. president President Rutherford B. Hayes, and future president Theodore Roosevelt, who was still studying at Harvard.

A cruel fate

One month after her first of 23 proposed volumes shipped, just two years after the project began, Gennie fell desperately ill. Typhoid fever, responsible for nearly half the disease-related deaths among civil war soldiers, took Genevieve Jones at the age of 32. Tenacious to the end, Gennie instructed her younger brother Howard to continue the project, and taught her mother Virginia the art of illustration, determined that her project survive her.

The next years were heartbreaking for the Jones family. Virginia retrained herself from a casual painter into a detail-focused technical illustrator, and hired three assistants to help complete the work. Howard and Virginia survived their own encounter with Typhoid, which took Howard's strength and damaged Virginia's eyesight. The costs of creating Birds of Ohio quickly eclipsed their meager profits, and Howard spent the entirety of their $25,000 retirement savings on the project. Virgina continued to illustrate despite extraordinary pain to her eyes. Word eventually came that Jones's old lover, utterly lost, had committed suicide.

Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio was finally completed in 1886 and bound as a complete volume in red moroccan leather, like the finest European folios. Only a few copies sold. Virgina had gone blind from the strain on her eyes, and Howard abandoned his medical practice, locked the doors to the family studio, and often disappeared on long walks through the woods.

Read More

Plate 1. Baltimore Oriole

1879-1886

Plate 2. Wood Thrush

1879-1886

Plate 3. Black-Billed Cuckoo

1879-1886

Plate 4. Indigo Bird

1879-1886

Plate 5. Red-Winged Blackbird

1879-1886

Plate 6. Kingbird

1879-1886

Plate 7. Crow Blackbird

1879-1886

Plate 8. Robin

1879-1886

Plate 9. Loggerhead Shrike

1879-1886

Plate 10. Pewit Flycatcher

1879-1886

Plate 11. Great Carolina wren

1879-1886

Plate 12. Eastern Bluebird

1879-1886

Plate 13. Barn Swallow

1879-1886

Plate 14. Yellow Billed Cuckoo

1879-1886

Plate 15. Summer Warbler

1879-1886

Plate 16. Field Sparrow

1879-1886

Plate 17. Catbird

1879-1886

Plate 18. Quail

1879-1886

Plate 19. Acadian Flycatcher & Wood Pewee

1879-1886

Plate 20. Yellow-Breasted Chat

1879-1886

Plate 21. Maryland Yellow-Throat

1879-1886

Plate 22. Cardinal Red Bird

1879-1886

Plate 23. Warbling Vireo & Red-Eyed Vireo

1879-1886

Plate 24. Carolina Dove

1879-1886

Plate 25. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird & Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

1879-1886

Plate 26. Chipping Sparrow

1879-1886

Plate 27. Green Heron

1879-1886

Plate 28. Purple Martin

1879-1886

Plate 29. Black-Throated Bunting

1879-1886

Plate 30. Song Sparrow

1879-1886

Plate 31. Brown Thrush

1879-1886

Plate 32. Blue-Winged Yellow Warbler

1879-1886

Plate 33. Scarlet Tanager

1879-1886

Plate 34. Summer Redbird

1879-1886

Plate 35. Traill's Flycatcher

1879-1886

Plate 36. Blue Jay

1879-1886

Plate 37. Chewink

1879-1886

Plate 38. Meadow Lark

1879-1886

Plate 39. Fish Hawk, Wild Turkey & Turkey Buzzard

1879-1886

Plate 40. Orchard Oriole

1879-1886

Plate 41. Cliff Swallow

1879-1886

Plate 42. Bewick's Wren

1879-1886

Plate 43. American Goldfinch

1879-1886

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