America’s Other Audubon: A New Book Pays Homage to a Woman's Passion for Birds

Audubon Book Cover
Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press

In 1995, when Joy Kiser walked into the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to start her new job as an assistant librarian, she was struck by a Plexiglas display case that contained the book  Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio.

An easily missed, 3-by-5 label explained that the book had been conceived 100 years earlier by a young woman named Genevieve Jones.

With a childhood friend, Genevieve had painstakingly drawn and painted the nests and eggs featured in the book. After she died unexpectedly, her family spent eight years completing the project.

Two Women With a Love of Nests

Kiser spent most of her childhood climbing trees in her father’s orchard to satisfy her own curiosity about birds, so she felt drawn to that display case whenever she passed it at work.

“I immediately felt a kinship with Genevieve. I never knew another girl who was interested in climbing trees to look into nests,” she says. “I became increasingly bewildered that eight years of work could be summed up on such a tiny label, in so few words and with such a lack of emotion.”

So Kiser decided to do something about it, and she started researching Genevieve’s life story. This month, Kiser published her first book, America’s Other Audubon, a reproduction of the original drawings in Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio — along with historical details about the young woman's short life and her family’s struggles to produce the book.

Telling the Full — Feathered — Tale

Now that the book is published, you'd think that Kiser would be content to bask in her labor of love — but she isn't done with Genevieve and her birds just yet. She's currently working on the historical narrative of Genevieve’s story, as well as a children’s version of the tale.

When she’s not writing, Kiser spends time on her deck looking at — what else? — birds.

“My backyard is a magnet for them,” she says. “My favorite is the American Robin, one of the first birds that I learned to identify in my father's orchard. I loved their stunning blue eggs.”

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