The main gallery of Kenneth Spencer Research Library, just north of Strong Hall on the Kansas University campus, has become a zoo of sorts.
A new exhibit there, "An Alphabet of Animals: 200 Years of Zoological Illustration," presents striking illustrations of animals, familiar and strange. The illustrations date from the 1600s to the 1800s.
According to L.E. James Helyar, curator in graphics for the Department of Special Collections in Spencer, the exhibit is arranged "like a traditional child's ABC, from `A is for Anteater' to `Z is for Zebra.'"
In between are some amazing creatures, and some creatures amazingly drawn, including a mouflon, which is a wild Algerian sheep, a whale-like narwhal and a South African quagga, which looks like a cross between a donkey and a zebra.
There also are examples of the more familiar, including a chimpanzee, elephant, porcupine and warthog.
HELYAR NOTED the exhibit shows a range of methods of illustration as well: copper engravings, etchings, lithographs and one original watercolor "Ox of the Guzzerat Breed" in an album of Hindu animals and native trades.
Among the many illustrators represented are John Gould and John James Audubon.
All the illustrations are from books in the Department of Special Collections' Ellis Collection.
Ralph Nicholson Ellis built an outstanding personnal library of natural history, Helyar noted, and bequeathed it to KU.
"His major interest was ornithology, but as can be seen in this exhibition, he also acquired many fine works on mammals as well as on many other creatures," Helyar said.
ALEXANDRA MASON, Spencer librarian, said the display of scientific art, which Heylar put together, was done in part because a group of art librarians meeting in Kansas City next month will tour Spencer.
Exhibit selections, she said, show how the illustrators worked to honestly portray the animals and, at the same time, make an aesthetically pleasing picture.
Mason added the work of modern scientific illustrators is much easier with the crutch of photography. Early illustrators had only fleeting views of animals in the wild, or they worked from unpreserved carcasses, strung up as naturally as possible in studios that weren't equipped with comforts such as air-conditioning.
The Spencer display, which Helyar noted "is very attractive to children as well as older enthusiasts in the field of natural history," will continue until the end of April.
Hours for the Department of Special Collections are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.