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Art in Print

Dear Friends:

Jack Kramer is the author of more than 130 books.  His best selling book, Women of Flowers, celebrates the art of botanical painting produced by women during the Victorian era.  His book, The Art of Flowers, is filled with information on how the genre evolved.  The many plates of botanical images are accompanied by poetry and observations into the lives of the various artists that make up the book.

You don’t need to be an artist to enjoy this lovely book, but if you are you’ll find interesting examples of how to draw and paint botanicals that are taken directly from the notes of the artists themselves.

In Professor Dr. H. Walter Lack’s book, Garden Eden, we have an opportunity to view the outstanding works of botanical illustration now housed in the Austrian National Library in Vienna.  With 487 colored plates, the book offers a chronological, geographic, thematic and technical profile of botanical art from the 6th to the 20th century.  In addition, the book is printed in three languages: English, French, and German.

Dr. Brent Elliott, Librarian and Archivist of the Royal Horticultural Society, is author of Victorian Garden, The Country House Garden, and Treasures of the Royal Horticultural Society.  In his book, Flora, he illustrates the history of the garden flower by exploring the world of adventurers and plant hunters who collected seeds and specimens from exotic lands.  The exquisite illustrations include works by artists of that period some of whom were considered the greatest scientific botanical illustrators of their day.

“…During the 18th century the beginnings of an engraving and copperplate printing branch of the book trade began to emerge. Largely confined to the great urban centers of Boston, New York and Philadelphia, their work was seen in early engraved maps, maritime charts, battle plans during the War of Independence, illustrated architectural books, some Bible illustrations, and so forth, some of considerable competence…

American illustrated botanical literature made only slow progress…Nevertheless, major works on American botany were still being printed and published in Europe [around 1812)…Over the next few years the American output increased gradually…but quality and quantity of plated produced increased significantly, in several instances matching European standards.


…America’s botanical printmaking always had a more utilitarian goal.  Botanical exploration was to continue right through the century; the last great American wilderness being explored by the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899…Almost the first need was to produce verbal and pictorial descriptions of the native flora of this great New World.

…Alongside the great need to describe and illustrate American plants for scientific purposes was an interest in their practical value, medical botany being a major feature of their exploitation.  Again, illustration was an important element since the correct identification of significant healing plants was crucial, mistakes perhaps proving fatal.

…Another great field for plant exploitation was the rapidly burgeoning horticultural industry.  Apart from the personal needs of American gardeners the creation of great urban centers stimulated immense attention on the identification, selection and production of plant resources for the dinner table, the parlor, the kitchen and the flower garden.

…By mid-century, fruit became a highly important element in the horticulture industry…In 1847-1856 C.M. Hovey published The Fruits of America…The third volume of Ebenezer Emmons’ Agriculture of New York; published at Albany in 1851, dealt with fruit…The Illustrated Pear Culturist of 1857…was soon outclassed by…W.D. Brincklé edition of Hoffy’s North American Pomologist…with 60 remarkable colored plates described by McGrath (1966) as “almost good enough to eat.”

A broad miscellany of popular “colored” books straddled the middle years of the century.  One of the more numerous groups are those on the language, symbolism and poetry of flowers…Some books of this genre sought to improve their fanciful content by adding a simple outline of botany.

[By the end of the 19th –century], all the highly developed skills of [hand drawn printmaking]…were no longer essential for commercial book illustration.  Specialized graphic-arts technicians, …photo-mechanical printing surfaces, had replaced them all, and sophisticated power-driven machines put the images on paper.

[However,]… in the 20th century, [printmaking] is free to become the sole province of artists who could use its various traditional, and some innovative, techniques to produce creatively conceived and executed images of plants in the form of what we now speak of as true “prints.”      Excerpt from American Botanical Prints of Two Centuries, Gavin D. R. Bridson, The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.   This certainly sounds like a call to arms, or hand!

I hope you’ll have an opportunity to visit these wonderful books and enjoy the glorious art.  And when you hear a voice within knock at the door of your own creativity, put your book down and paint.  God bless. OM

2 Responses to “Art in Print”

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