Tag Archives: illustration

Wildflowers of North America


Mary Vaux Walcott sitting on some rocks facing the camera with waterfalls behind her. (original image)

Special Collections here at FSU holds a large collection of books on botany and herbal medicine that go as far back as the 16th century. As much as I would love to scour through the many many herbal encyclopedia we hold, I found myself more interested in the different types of flowers and plants collected and depicted through either art or scientific study that can be found in the archives.

The full collection as it sits in the archives.

Here is Special Collections, we have the five volumes of a collection that holds some of the most beautiful prints of flowers created in the early 1900s. This collection, titled North American Wild Flowers, includes some 400 plates illustrated by American artist and naturalist Mary Vaux Walcott and was first published in 1925 by the Smithsonian Institute.

What’s most interesting about this collection is not the images themselves, but the sweet story of how they came to be. Walcott first took interest in watercolor painting after graduating from Friends Select School, a Quaker college preparatory school. She painted wildflowers she came upon during family trips with her brother who would study and record glacier flow in drawings and photographs as part of his mineralogical studies.

This was only the start for Mary Walcott. She would go on to marry Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Charles Doolittle Walcott at the age of 54. As she traveled with her husband for his paleontology research in the Rockies and throughout Canada, Mary made watercolor illustrations of wildflowers which can now be seen in the five-volume collection held in Special Collections & Archives.

During a 10 year period, Mary would spend somewhere between three and four months in the Canadian Rockies, finding and studying the finest specimens. More often then not, these illustrations were created under “trying conditions” such as on a mountain side of high pass, and at times when a fire was necessary to warm her numb fingers and body. Despite these conditions and others, such as diffused lighting and subjects which had a lifespan seemingly too short for creating art from them, the fruits of Walcott’s labor can be seen in these immortalized specimens.

Each box volume in this collection consists of a slipcase which holds a book listing each flower, describing them in detail, and a plate of each flower beautifully detailed by Walcott’s hand.

The North American Wild Flowers Collection, can be referenced here in the library catalog. For more information please call or visit Special Collections & Archives.

All photo credits go to the author.

Bad luck for bees, and other stories.

A selection of hand-colored children’s books from the nineteenth century are available for viewing on DigiNole as part of the John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection. This project began as a partnership between the Rare Books Librarian and the Digital Archivist as a way to share some of the collection’s unique pieces. Because the illustrations are hand colored using watercolors, no two editions of a book will be exactly alike.

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Two versions of the bird orchestra from The Peacock “at Home.” Left image from PR4613.D37P4 1841; right image from PR4613.D37P4 1834.

Some of the newly digitized books include:

The Wonderful History of the Busy Bees  (QL565.2.W87 1833)

Describing the life of a beehive, this 1833 chapbook is a mixture of science lesson, allegory, and children’s story. The industrious bees serving their queen must defend the colony against the vicious wasp attacks — but there’s a surprise twist at the end.

A Was an Archer Who Shot at a Frog  (GR486.A24 1860 *)

This primer, like many others in this project, would have been used to introduce children to the alphabet using common words and pictures. Unlike our modern examples — A is for apple, B is for bear, and Z is for zebra — A Was an Archer uses such gems as, “K was a king, and governed a mouse,” and “V was a vintner, a very great sot.” A particularly interesting feature of the book is its interactivity; a moveable piece accompanies each illustration, connected to a paper tab on the back of the page. Readers could manipulate the pictures with these tabs to make a character wave or doff his hat. Sadly, most of the moveable pieces have been glued down by a previous owner.

Cinderella, of the little glass slipper  (PN3437.C56 1800z)

A classic fairy tale about the benefits of a virtuous life, this book avoids the grisly endings faced by other heroes (like Little Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb, the Children in the Wood, or — spoiler alert — the bees from the top of this list). Though the coloring is simple, the poetic rhyme and magical elements would have encouraged children to act with kindness, obedience, and modesty. This chapbook is one of eight hand colored Albany edition stories in the Shaw Collection.

The Smiling Book  (PL864.H42S6 1950)

This book was published in 1950 but made its way into this digitization project due to its exquisitely detailed hand coloring. The Smiling Book is printed on crepe paper, giving it a unique texture and flexibility not seen in many other books. While the book does not follow a particular narrative storyline, the illustrations explore nature, weather, and humanity.

 

A total of 68 books have been added to the digital collection.

The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women

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The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women, Illustrated by As Many Engravings; Exhibiting Their Principal Eccentricities and Amusements (1820) was recently added to the John MacKay Shaw Collection of Childhood in Poetry. It was published in London by prominent children’s publisher John Harris as part of “Harris’s Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction.” These little books, “printed in a superior manner upon good paper,” sold for 1 shilling and 6 pence, which made them significantly pricier than other chapbooks on the market. There are three other titles from Harris’s Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction available in the Shaw Collection:

Medieval beasts in the stacks

For this year’s Halloween post, I wanted to share some of my favorite books from the rare book collection in Special Collections. I am not a Medieval scholar, but I do enjoy looking through the various books on animals, mythical or real, from the Middle Ages. Books of beasts, or Bestiary, went beyond use as a scientific observation of animals. Rather the descriptions included for each animal where meant as elaborate metaphors littered with colorful language. The most well known were written in Latin and included stories as well as illustrations.

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Book of Beasts: a facsimile of MS Bodley 764. Written in Latin in the 13th Century. PR275.B47 H36 2008

 Though we now know that a considerable amount of animals described in these books are mythical in nature, Bestiaries more importantly served to reinforce teachings on virtue and proper behavior. Each animal’s characteristics were tied to a purpose in the moral of each story. For example, ants, known for creating elaborate underground dwellings and working in unison, reflect on the importance of people working together for a common good. Graceful swans are described as singing a beautiful song before their death, or swan song. Given that these books were vested in Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition, it is understandable to see why Bestiaries were second in popularity to the Bible.

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Illustration of a Fairy Dog from A Scottish bestiary: the lore and literature of Scottish beasts (1978) from the Scottish Collection. QL259.T48 1978

Drawing on the tradition of Medieval Bestiaries, contemporary works are meant to capture whimsy and intrigue. A Child’s Bestiary, found in our Shaw Collection of children’s book, was published in the late 1970s. The book’s purpose is to educate children on a variety of animals found in different countries. Each entry contains a humorous description or poem followed by a drawing of the animal.
There are also fictional Bestiaries based on popular media such as the magical creatures in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from the Harry Potter book series. As well as a fantasy bestiary created by graphic designer Swann Smith for the MTV series Teen Wolf. 
For further reading on Medieval Manuscripts in general, take a look at the research guide created by our Rare Book Librarian Kat Hoarn. There is also a fun website dedicated to sorting through metaphorical descriptions of the animals in Medieval Bestiaries.

Who Wore It Best: A Renaissance Costume Party

While it might be a little late for you all to change your Halloween costume plans, the following woodcut illustrations from Habiti Antichi, et Moderni di Tutto il Mondo (1598) could still provide some last minute inspiration.

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Sixteenth-century sheet ghost. Member of the “shamefaced poor” of Venice.

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Inhabitant of Virginia in the New World.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Roman soldier.

Costume books became popular in the sixteenth century, as increases in travel, technology, and literacy fed the innate human curiosity to know about the dress and customs of people in other parts of the world.  Habiti Antichi, et Moderni di Tutto il Mondo features men and women from a wide variety of regions and social statuses. Everyone from the pope to the peasants are featured in often highly-stereotyped woodcut illustrations. As the book was published in Venice, there is a particular emphasis on the wealthy Venetian merchant class, but other people from as far away as Russia, China, and the Americas are also included.

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A wealthy Venetian.

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A woman in ancient costume.

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A Turkish fighter with some fierce headgear.

An interest in costumes of the world did not end with the Renaissance, as the popularity of sites such as The Sartorialist and other street-style blogs attest. “Who wore it best” polls are a common feature of celebrity tabloids, and the internet has made it easier than ever to know what people all over the world look like. On Halloween, most of us decide we want to be someone else for the night. Who knows, maybe you’ll see a dogalina antica wandering the streets this weekend!