When I was a child my mom had a set of botanical prints that hung in the house that I always loved. They meant a lot to my mom because my grandfather made the frames they hung in. The prints were from the Colonial Williamsburg collection and each had a beautiful, bountiful arrangement of flowers in a unique vase. Each illustration was drawn with such care and the colors always drew me in. Underneath each vase was a key designed to tell you which flower you were looking at.
I didn’t know it then, but this was a common practice before photography, but even after the emergence of photography hand drawn, hand painted illustrations were favored. I think it is because a photograph captures every detail with such precision, but artists renderings of plants, flowers, animals, almost anything in the natural world, have a soul of their own.
The USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection documents fruit and nut varieties developed by growers or introduced by USDA plant explorers around the turn of the 20th century. Technically accurate paintings were used to create lithographs illustrating USDA bulletins, yearbooks, and other series distributed to growers and gardeners across America.
Fast Facts about the collection:
Time period: 1886 to 1942, with the majority created between 1894 and 1916.
Fruit origins: The plant specimens illustrated originated in 29 countries and 51 states and territories in the U.S.
Artists: The paintings were created by approximately twenty-one artists commissioned by USDA for this purpose. Some works are not signed.
I loved learning from those illustrations a a child. I think they helped to cement my interest in art, science, and gardening at an early age.
I hope you enjoy looking through the collection as much as I did! It’s a wonderful exploration of how science and art compliment each other; they are a part of each other.
Attribution Statement: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705″
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