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The Nelson E. Jones Family's Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio
Introduction by Leslie K. Overstreet
Essay by Joy M. Kiser
Explore the illustrations
Learn more about the family
Further reading/bibliography
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Dr. Nelson, Virginia, Genevieve, and Howard Jones.
Courtesy of the Nelson Jonnes family.

Nearly everyone is familiar with the name of John James Audubon and would recognize some of the images he painted for his monumental tome Birds of America (1827-1838). But few people are aware of another monumental volume of stunning artwork, Illustrations of the nests and eggs of birds of Ohio, which was created by a remarkable American family who intended for it to be used as a companion volume to Audubon's book.

Genevieve Jones.
Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, Ohio.

The original author of this little known work, Genevieve Estelle Jones, grew up in Circleville, Ohio where she learned ornithology from her father.

Birdseye View of Circleville, Ohio in 1836.
Courtesy of the Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Society, Circleville, Ohio.

The original city plan of Circleville was circular, following the oval shape of the ancient Hopewell mound on which it was established in 1810. By the time the Jones family moved there in 1853, residents had already started to redesign the city and straighten out the streets.

Dr. Nelson E. Jones.
Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, Ohio.

When Gennie was a child of seven, her father, Dr. Nelson Jones, began the practice of taking her along with him in his buggy when he went to visit his patients. Along the way, with the help of the family's cocker spaniel, they gathered nests and eggs for their natural-history cabinet. (In the 19th century it was common for amateur naturalists to collect bird nests and eggs and to store them in a wooden cabinet for scientific study. Today, because of the drastic decline in the number of migratory birds, it is illegal to disturb nesting birds or to remove eggs or nests from the wild.)

On one of those buggy rides Genevieve found the nest of a Baltimore Oriole. Wishing to learn which bird had built the nest, she searched for a book to read but discovered that no book about the eggs and nests of American birds had ever been written.

Over the years the Jones family often spoke among themselves about how useful a book depicting the nest and eggs would be to amateur naturalists. During one of these family discussions, Genevieve's younger brother, Howard Jones, casually commented that if she would paint the nests and eggs for such a book, he would be happy to gather them for her.

Howard Jones as an adult.
Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, Ohio.

An appreciation of nature was a passion that Genevieve shared with her father and brother. But a love for painting with watercolors was something she shared with her mother, Virginia. The two enjoyed painting illustrations in personal journals and handmade books, as well as on pieces of china.

Virginia Jones.
Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, Ohio.

At the age of twenty-nine Genevieve visited the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia where she saw an exhibition of the paintings from Audubon's Birds of America. She returned to Circleville determined to create a book that would provide the missing details of the nests and eggs of these birds. At first she envisioned illustrating the nests and eggs of all the birds in North America. But her father, daunted by the time and expense involved with such an under-taking, persuaded her to limit the number to the 130 species of birds that nested in Ohio. (Nearly all of these birds are also seen in most of the contiguous United States.)

Genevieve Jones.
Courtesy of the Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Society, Circleville, Ohio.

Eliza J. Shulze.
Courtesy of the Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Society, Circleville, Ohio.

Genevieve and a childhood friend, Eliza Jane Shulze, planned to draw the lithographs for printing and to hand-color each illustration. Howard Jones, by now a country doctor like his father, would make good his promise to gather the nests and eggs and write the field notes. Genevieve's father would pay for the initial expenses with the hope that eventually there would be enough subscribers to cover the cost of the book's production. While Dr. Nelson Jones was writing a prospectus for the work and investigating the process for publishing a book, Genevieve and Eliza began practicing sketching nests and eggs, using a pair of calipers to take precise measurements. They began their project in the dining room of the family apartment in the upper rooms of Dr. Jones' office at 153 West Main Street.

Dr. Jones' office as it looks today in Circleville, Ohio.
Courtesy of Joy M. Kiser.

Dr. Jones planned to have 100 copies of Genevieve's book printed. The illustrations would be life-sized, as the illustrations of the birds had been in Audubon's book, and the finest paper and paints would be imported from England for use in the book's production. The nests and eggs for each illustration would be freshly gathered so the colors would accurately represent those in nature. The book would be sold by subscription and issued in about 20 parts. Each part, composed of three illustrations with text, would cost $5.00 for the colored version and $2.50 for an uncolored copy.

Dr. Nelson Jones wrote the prospectus for the project and mailed it to relatives, friends, and leading ornithologists. When twenty subscriptions had been secured, production began. It quickly became apparent that the dining room was not a suitable place to do scientific illustration, so Dr. Jones had a two-room studio with skylights added to the barn behind his office. These rooms were referred to as the Office of the Illustrations of the nests and eggs of birds of Ohio. All the work on the book was done in this space: the drawing and coloring of the plates, the writing of the text, and the packaging and mailing of the parts to the subscribers.

Lithographic stone of the nest of the Downy Woodpecker.
Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio.

Plate of the nest of the Downy Woodpecker.
Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio.

Genevieve and Eliza drew one illustration on either side of the sixty-five-pound lithographic stones. Then the stones were packed in crates for protection and shipped fifty miles to the Adolph Krebs Lithographic Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, for printing. The Robert Clark Company, also of Cincinnati, printed the pages of text for the book.

Part one was mailed to subscribers in July 1879, and it received enthusiastic reviews by editors of leading ornithological journals, who praised the beauty and scientific accuracy of Genevieve and Eliza's illustrations.

Plate I. The Baltimore Oriole's nest by Eliza Shultz.
Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, D.C.

Elliot Coues adjudged that, "There has been nothing since Audubon in the way of pictorial illustrations of American Ornithology to compare with the present work - nothing to claim the union of an equal degree of artistic skill and scientific accuracy" (Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithology Club (1882): 112).

Plate II. The nest of the Wood Thrush by Genevieve Jones.
Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, D.C.

Genevieve drew plate two, the nest of the Wood Thrush. William Brewster proclaimed, "The Baltimore oriole [sic] seems to be almost if not quite faultless. The nest is exquisitely represented and the eggs are equal to if not superior to those given in any plates that I can now recall. The nest of the wood thrush [sic] is even more admirably delineated and is in its kind a perfect masterpiece. Please accept my best wishes for the future prosperous continuance of the work which is altogether too good to fail." (Letter from Brewster dated December 15, 1878; in the Howard Jones Papers at the Ohio Historical Society.)

The positive reviews resulted in the sale of more subscriptions. The list included the names of President Rutherford B. Hayes and Harvard college student Theodore Roosevelt. The future of the book venture seemed promising.

But almost simultaneously, Genevieve was stricken with typhoid fever. After three weeks of suffering, she died at the age of thirty-two, only one month after her book's debut.

Genevieve and Eliza had completed 15 of the illustrations for the book at the time of her death. Genevieve's family and friends were immobilized by shock and sorrow, and the future of her artistic endeavor was uncertain.

Finally, after weeks of grieving, Genevieve's family determined that they would undertake the completion of the book as Genevieve's memorial.

Virginia Jones would complete the drawing of the lithographic illustrations for the book. Eliza Shulze taught Virginia the lithographic technique and then sold her part of the book's copyright to Nelson Jones. Eliza moved to New York to pursue formal artistic training and eventually became a successful teacher and portrait painter.

Dr. Nelson Jones continued to cover most costs of the book's publication, and Howard continued to collect the nests and eggs and wrote the text. Eventually he also assumed the task of drawing the eggs at the bottom of each illustration. Two local girls were hired to help with the hand-coloring of the plates.

Nellie Jacob.
Courtesy of the Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Society, Circleville, Ohio.

Nellie Jacob colored the patterns on the eggs.

Kate Gephart.
Courtesy of the Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Society, Circleville, Ohio.

Kate Gephart colored the less important parts of each illustration.

Josephine Klippart
Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio.

And Columbus artist Josephine Klippart was hired to help Virginia color the nests themselves.

The Jones family and the hired colorists worked on this labor of love for seven years. Genevieve's book was finally completed in 1886.

To bring closure to their mourning, Nelson had Virginia's copy bound into two volumes in full morocco by one of the finest binderies in Chicago. This set was sent out as a sample to potential buyers. Howard entered his mother's copy of the book in the Columbian Exposition of 1893, where it was awarded a special certificate and bronze medal in the Women's Pavilion Art Exhibition.

Virginia Jones' personal copy is now owned by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
Courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Cleveland, Ohio.

Of the proposed 100 copies produced, fewer than half have been located in libraries and private hands. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries is fortunate to possess two of them.

The Jones family donated a complete set of the book's illustrations, Virginia Jones' paint box, Genevieve's paint palette, one of the lithographic stones, one nest preserved from the project, and Genevieve's memorial portrait to the Pickaway County Historical Society in Circleville, Ohio, where they may be still seen today.

The meeting room in the Clarke May House, part of the Pickaway County Historical Society, Circleville, Ohio, where plates from the book line the walls and where Genevieve's memorial portrait is hung, on the right.
Courtesy of Nelson Jonnes with the permission of the Pickaway County Historical Society.

The final nest from the project, Genevieve's paint palette and Virginia's paint box.
Courtesy of Joy M. Kiser with the permission of the Pickaway County Historical Society.

Genevieve's Memorial Portrait.
Courtesy of Joy M. Kiser with the permission of the Pickaway County Historical Society.