While the genesis of “When They Were Wild: Recapturing California’s Wildflower Heritage” was The Huntington’s collections of wildflower paintings by Alice Chittenden and Ethel Wickes, other collections made their way into the exhibition through unexpected routes.
One collection was originally among the plant specimens of the Pasadena City College (PCC) herbarium, which was donated to The Huntington in 2009. An herbarium is an organized collection of pressed, dried plant specimens, a sort of reference library of plants. Researchers use herbarium specimens to verify the identity of plants, document their distribution, and study plant classification and relationships within and among species. Along with about 3,000 specimens, the PCC collection also includes about 25 flower paintings by students, including those by Albert Richard Stockdale (1909–1970), who went on to have a successful career in design. We included four of his works in the exhibition.
It isn’t unusual for collections of wildflower paintings to be treated as scientific documents. For many years, Clara Mason Fox’s (1873–1959) watercolors were treated like the rest of the herbarium at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. As the exhibition’s curators, we recognized the scientific and aesthetic value of her paintings, so we included 45 of them in the show. The exhibition also includes 14 pieces by Sophie Fauntleroy (ca. 1872–1948) and 15 by Stella Sherwood Vosburg (1869–1943). The Fauntleroy and Sherwood pieces were part of a project that Alice Eastwood (1859–1953) started during her 58 years in the botany department at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
We located another collection through a chance relationship between a board member of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and a family member of Rose Frances Kittredge Cronise (1870–1959), whose 189 paintings now reside at the Thatcher School in Ojai. With the board member’s help, we contacted the school librarian, who was happy to loan 14 of Cronise’s works to the show.
There are many individual works and whole collections of California wildflower paintings waiting to be discovered. Maybe it’s time to take a look in the attic!
“When They Were Wild: Recapturing California’s Wildflower Heritage” is on view in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery at The Huntington through July 8, 2013.
Kitty Connolly is the botanical interpretation manager in The Huntington’s education department.