Women have played a significant role in the development of plant science through botanical art, yet many have not received due recognition for their work as compared to their male counterparts. Explore the works of women artists ahead of their time whose works are part of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation's collections.
An editor of The Journal of Botany suggested that the images Moriarty published had not been drawn from life, but were in fact copied from other illustrations; the spellings of plant names were often incorrect, and her descriptions of plant and their cultivation methods were so sparse so as to suggest her lack of knowledge in gardening. Nevertheless, her drawings demonstrate her confident use of color and lines.
In The Virginian Flowering Maple, Hamilton depicts the blooming plant native to eastern and central North America. She expertly details the ridges of each branch and the veins of the maple leaves. Hamilton’s style is suggestive of Georg Ehret, Europe’s foremost botanical illustrator of the mid-eighteenth century.
Though little was known about Howard’s life, she pored over her work for hours, demonstrating skills comparable to Ehret. Yet she added her own style when experimenting with rare blue paper, and studying the scientific backgrounds of plants. Her work, the only known collection in the world, is maintained by the Oak Spring Garden Foundation Library.
Despite the mystery of their lives, the Oak Spring Garden Library maintains four manuscript volumes of the flowers, grasses, and seaweeds the sisters encountered and illustrated. At times Elizabeth would include where she spotted plants: sometimes she illustrated them “near Durham,” and at other times she was in the “Garden,” though she rarely or never included the locations when Margaret was involved. By examining the pieces’ locations, their records gift us a lens through which we can piece together the short history of their lives and work.
C.A. Stonehill wrote of Elizabeth that her “close regard to the individual character of the subjects depicted, attest her skill and industry, and would prove a valuable acquisition to science if published to the world.” The quote applies to each woman in the exhibit, who received different levels of recognition, sometimes only after their passing. Today, the stories of their lives, works, and impact on women in science are slowly surfacing, shedding light on their diligence, bravery, and indelible mark on a woman’s role in the marriage of science and art.
All images are the property of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation. All text was provided by staff, interns, and volunteers of Oak Spring Garden LLC, who also curated the exhibit.
Learn more at www.OSGF.org