Annual Sampler Series takes you on 'Adventures With Audubon' March 25

  • An 1826 portrait of John James Audubon, completed by John Syme, hangs in the White House.

    An 1826 portrait of John James Audubon, completed by John Syme, hangs in the White House. Courtesy of McHenry County Historical Society

  • On Monday, March 25, storyteller and naturalist Brian "Fox" Ellis presents "Adventures With Audubon" at the McHenry County Historical Museum in Union.

    On Monday, March 25, storyteller and naturalist Brian "Fox" Ellis presents "Adventures With Audubon" at the McHenry County Historical Museum in Union. Courtesy of McHenry County Historical Society

Submitted by McHenry County Historical Society
Posted3/20/2019 10:42 PM

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

He ran a gristmill, a lead mine and a 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.

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In New Orleans, Audubon supported his growing family 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 this Haitian-born, French immigrant.

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

At 3 p.m. Monday, March 25, join Ellis, a fellow storyteller and naturalist, as he presents "Adventures With Audubon" at the McHenry County Historical Museum, 6422 Main St. in Union. Hear about Audubon's adventures as he strives to become the first person to draw every bird in North America -- gleaned from his own journals, essays, and letters to friends and colleagues.

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

Audubon settled on an ambitious 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, the Carolina parakeet and the 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."

Ellis attended Oberlin and Wilmington colleges in Ohio, becoming certified as a biology teacher and teaching on and off at various high schools. But he has always had a passion for the arts. He founded musical theater company, Fox Tales International, and is artistic director for Prairie Folklore Theatre in Peoria. Ellis has been performing on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat for 25 years.

He also founded Historic Illinois, a website development and management company for historical societies. He is an author, publishing 16 books. And he and his wife run a bed and breakfast, The Twinflower Inn, when he's not putting on "History Comes Alive" program at the Old State Capitol building in Springfield.

By 1898, state-level Audubon Societies were established in Illinois, as well as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Tennessee, Texas, and California.


Upcoming programs in the historical society's 33rd annual Sampler Series include:

• 7 p.m. Monday, April 8 -- "A Peek into the American Indian Way of Life Through Their History and Oral Traditions." This presentation by Freeport's Kim Sigafus invites the audience to enter the world of the American Indian. 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 culture through oral traditions, language, and history. She will discuss Native encampment life and will drum and sing an Ojibwa lullaby. A traditional recipe hand out will be available, and there will be a Q&A at the end of the presentation.

• 3 p.m. Thursday, April 25 -- "Marshall Field's and Chicago." 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 Marshall Field include the Chicago Fire, the Eastland Disaster, and the 1892 World's Fair. 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 society museum, 6422 Main St., Union. A $10 donation is requested for individual programs. For information, visit or call (815) 923-2267.

The Audubon and Native American programs are made possible through a grant from Illinois Humanities.

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