Auburn University professors emeriti Gary Mullen and Taylor Littleton will be at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art on Tuesday, Sept. 14, from 4-6 p.m. to sign copies of a book featuring illustrations of Alabama insects drawn by a British naturalist more than 172 years ago.
The visit of Philip Henry Gosse to west-central Alabama in the 1830s led to the recent reproduction of his sketchbook of beautiful and intricate drawings of Alabama insects in a book released this month titled “Philip Henry Gosse, Science and Art in Letters from Alabama and Entomologia Alabamensis.”
The book’s publication is a collaborative endeavor between Auburn University’s Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art and the Auburn University Libraries. The pages from Gosse’s sketchbook are enhanced by an essay on the life, art and studies of Gosse, coauthored by Mullen, professor emeritus of entomology and Gosse scholar, and Littleton, Mosley Professor of Science and Humanities Emeritus.
The hardbound book contains full-color plates of actual sized reproductions of Gosse’s original watercolors. It will be for sale in the museum gift shop and also online for $29.95.
In 1838, Gosse was employed as a teacher for an eight-month stint in Dallas County, Ala. During that time, he recorded his studies of local insect life in watercolor drawings in a sketchbook that became “Entomologia Alabamensis.” His illustrations recorded more than 200 insects – mostly butterflies, but also cow killers and robber flies – that captured his attention as he explored the countryside.
Following Gosse’s death in 1888, the Gosse family loaned the sketchbook to the British Library in London. It remained there until Mullen persuaded the British Library to allow Auburn University Libraries to have color transparencies made of the book.
Caroline Marshall Draughon, wife of tenth Auburn University president and library namesake Ralph Brown Draughon, left a bequest to the library at her death in 2005. Dean of Auburn University Libraries Bonnie MacEwan decided acquisition of Gosse’s sketchbook would make an ideal use of the bequest.
When attempts to buy the sketchbook from the Gosse family were declined, MacEwan and Marilyn Laufer, director of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, began working to put together a museum exhibition based on reproductions made from the libraries’ Gosse transparencies. They also began to consider the idea of jointly publishing a first edition of the book.
Prompted by Auburn’s attempt to purchase the original sketchbook, the Gosse family decided to make a gift of the book to the British Library. In turn, the British Library gave permission to reproduce the images from “Entomologia Alabamensis” in this publication and in an upcoming website.