From collage to crayon: Three women plant collectors and their methods from 1700-1975

Elinor Scarth, Leonie Mhari

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Plant collections are precarious due to the nature of the material they contain. Further-more much is to be learned from flora as it is seen in loco and some plant life is less adapted to the artificial conditions of a botanic garden. Dried specimens will degrade over time whereas botanic illustrations can capture flora in detailed visual descriptions. Spanning three centuries, the work of three women will be discussed in terms of their notable contribution to botanical illustration: Mary Delany (1700 - 1788), Anna Atkins (1799 - 1871), and Olive Pink (1884 - 1975). The work of these women, plant collections of sorts, is distinguishable by its refusal of the ‘conventional’ drawing methods typical of the art of botanical illustration. Each distinct method will be examined in terms of the exacting way in which the choice of artistic medium carefully reflect the particular qualities of the flora documented. Delany’s “paper mosaics” reveal intricacies in the pursuit of accuracy, layers of paper mimicking petals overlapping. Anna Atkin’s impeccably executed cyanotypes capture translucent qualities of British Algae of coastal conditions. In contrast, the quickly made crayon drawings of Olive Pink reflect the hostile environment in which she recorded the arid austral flora; it is unsurprising that the un-predictable and often momentary flowerings would need to be captured by an immediate hand. Artistic endeavour intertwined with scientific pursuit are embedded within these distinct representations. What can we learn from their inquiring methods and unconventional approach and prolific depictions of plant matter?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 16 Oct 2018
EventSTUDY DAY ON WOMEN GARDENERS C.1500-2000 - The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Oct 2018 → …


Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period16/10/18 → …
Internet address

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • women
  • design
  • botanic art


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