Online Botanical Prints Include Local Artist

Drawings and paintings of plants, especially flowers, often appearing in books and journals, have long been an important part of garden history. 

Recently the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the oldest such Society in America, founded in 1829, made available on line 1000 of its rare botanical images from the MHS library’s Botanical Print Collection. Some of the artwork dates to the year 1620.

Over a period of three months the MHS, located at Elm Bank in Wellesley, Mass., partnered with Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library to digitize the images. 

Executive Director of the MHS Katherine Macdonald says, “People want to access information on line.” Now, what was once available in the MHS library only to experts, is accessible to everyone.

Isaac Spague's Wild Columbine (1882), part of the MHS' Digital Collection

Local artist Isaac Spague’s Wild Columbine (1882), part of the new MHS’ Digital Collection

The collection includes almost 60 illustrations from the nineteenth century artist Isaac Sprague  from Hingham, Mass. He supplied the drawings for the book Lessons in Botany by Asa Gray, Professor of Natural History at Harvard. Gray, with whom Sprague worked for twenty years, called Sprague “America’s greatest living artist” and “the most accurate of living botanical artists.”

The MHS collection includes Sprague’s black and white drawings from books with Gray, but also over 50 colorful chromolithographs from the book The Wild Flowers of America, published in 1882. The first illustration in the book is Sprague’s’ painting of the native flower called Wild Columbine, Aquilegia japonica, which is also included in the new digital collection from the MHS. [above]

You can access the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s botanical prints online at the Digital Commonwealth repository. The images are available for the purposes of viewing and studying but not for commercial use.

Now anyone from around the world can view this digital print collection of botanical art from the MHS. The collection is no longer confined to the four walls of the oldest horticultural library in the nation. Macdonald says, “People can enjoy these prints from home.”