An image from Audobon’s The Birds of America (1827-38)An image from Audubon’s The Birds of America (1827-38).

Sacramento State’s University Library is an appropriate venue for this spring semester exhibit: “The Golden Age of Book Illustration” runs Friday, Feb. 17, through Friday, May 19, in the University Library Gallery.

Curated by Gary Kurutz, principal librarian emeritus, Special Collections, California State Library, the free exhibit traces the evolution of printing technology from the 19th century onward. It features many examples of illustration processes, including woodcuts, engraving, etching, aquatint, and lithography, with works from John James Audubon to Thomas Moran.

A reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, at the gallery. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

The titles have been selected from the California State Library, which began purchasing these examples of illustrations in the 1850s.

“Many of the titles on display have rarely been seen in the Sacramento area or assembled together in one venue,” Kurutz says.

Initially, craftsmen copied artists’ drawings by carving them in reverse on blocks of wood, and later by etching or engraving them on metal plates. It was an expensive process that limited the number of copies that could be published. “As an example,” says Kurutz, “it took more than 10 years to print and hand-color the 100,000 plates needed for Audubon’s The Birds of America (1827-38).”

Natural history – especially volumes on plants – and exotic people were popular topics for early illustrations since words alone could not adequately explain them.

“With this exhibition, we hope these volumes will not only delight the eye but also instill a sense of appreciation for the extraordinary talent, ingenuity, dauntlessness, and dedication of these artists and publishers,” Kurutz says.

For more information about the exhibit or the University Library Gallery, visit or call (916) 278-4189. – Craig Koscho