Last Tuesday's record sale of John James Audubon's Birds of America made headlines around the world.
Art dealer Michael Tollemache bought the 435-bird "picture book" at a Sotheby's auction for $10.2 million.
He could have seen it free in Ann Arbor.
The University of Michigan library counts Audubon's 19th century masterpiece as one of its 8.5 million volumes. Savvy enough to recognize the value of the original hand-colored prints, Michigan regents bought one of original sets for $970 in 1838. In fact, it was its first acquisition.
For a while, library patrons could even leaf through the "double elephant" volumes that stand more than three feet tall. In 2009, the library opened an official Audubon Room where the hand-colored, life-sized plates are displayed under glass. When I was there in November, the page for the wild turkey was being shown. A different page is displayed each week.
This rare public opportunity is just one more reason to visit this charming college town 40 miles west of Detroit. With a population that skews young, liberal and bohemian, Ann Arbor has much to recommend it: a swinging local food scene, the country's highest film tax incentive (42 percent, at last count), and legendary business creativity.
Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw, owners of Zingerman's Deli (now with a bakery, a designer chocolate factory, a restaurant and a cheese making operation) give lectures all over the world on "The Art of Giving Great Service."
Hollander's Paper, started by a family who once made decorative boxes for Jackie Onassis, is the largest retailer of decorative papers in the world. They have 1500 different varieties at their store near the Farmer's Market and offer regular classes on the art of custom bookmaking, a growing field as people react to the mass digital age. Hollander's offers classes on bookbinding, box making, printmaking, papermaking, marbling, calligraphy and many more.
Motawi Tile, another innovative Ann Arbor business, grew out of an Ann Arbor garage and today makes decorative tiles, mostly sold in museum gift shops. Nawal Motawi, an Egyptian American, employs 26 who handcraft her American Arts & Craft tile designs, many that have ended up in famous homes, libraries and even at Disneyworld.
To find out more about Ann Arbor, click here.