This June, the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove debuted its new 18,000-square-foot museum and visitors’ center, which highlights local ornithology and art. Located in Audubon, the $13 million project took over two years to complete, but ideas for it were in the works for a decade. The result is a comprehensive look at birding and the man for whom the center is named. An additional public gallery will debut in September. Carrie Barron, the center manager, shares her insights into the new space.
MLT: Tell us more about the center.
CB: It’s going to take the artwork of John James Audubon and bring it to light. His amazing pictures and paintings of birds from the early 1800s are going to be the framework for us to talk about things that affect birds and people today.
MLT: Who was John James Audubon?
CB: His father was a sea captain who’d traveled to Philadelphia. He bought the Mill Grove property sight-unseen. When his father returned to France (where he grew up), and John turned 18 in 1803, the Napoleonic War was going on. He sent [John] to live here at Mill Grove. John fell in love with the birds here in Pennsylvania. Ultimately, he’s known as one of the original ornithologists.
MLT: Why is it important to share ornithology?
CB: At Audubon, we have a saying that habitats that are healthy for birds are healthy for people. We hope to inspire people by letting them know how tough it is sometimes to be a bird—especially if you’re one that migrates [from the Mid-Atlantic to] South or Central America.
MLT: What are some of the museum’s features?
CB: The new building has two main galleries. One highlights why birds are so amazing, with lots of hands-on stuff for kids. There’s a second gallery set up more like an art gallery. It shows some of [Audubon’s] Birds of America in full life-size prints. We have a copper plate that was used to make Audubon’s paintings into print—it’s on loan from Yale University for a year. We’ll also have three life-size Audubon prints done in 3D resin [for the visually impaired].
MLT: What about outside?
CB: What we’re calling the fledgling trail is an experience for kids where they’re going to feel what it’s like to hatch out an egg, be a baby bird, and jump out of their nest and learn to how to fly. There are huge nests and eggs they can hide in and pop out of. And there’s all sorts of play equipment, plus a glider and a zip line so they can feel what it’s like to fly. We’ve got seven wonderful birds you can meet. They’ve been hurt and can’t be released into the wild.
1201 Pawlings Rd., Audubon, (610) 666-5593.