Thursday, April 24, 2014

Toledo Museum of Art Exhibit: In Fine Feather, April 25-July 6, 2014

This week, an exhibit called In Fine Feather: Birds, Art & Science opens at the Toledo Museum of Art. The exhibit, coinciding with the Biggest Week in American Birding, highlights the intersection of natural science and art in the pursuit of describing and identifying birds, from a medieval treatise on falconry to John James Audubon’s Birds of America to the modern field guide. The exhibition features works by noted bird artists and illustrators including Audubon, Alexander Wilson, John Gould and Roger Tory Peterson.

The Clements Library holds several publications by Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), a Scottish-American poet and naturalist. Our holdings include an 1828 set of American Ornithology (3 vols.), accompanied by hand-colored plates illustrating American birds. Four of these plates are currently on loan to the Toledo Museum of Art for this exhibit. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

From the Stacks: Looking Forward to Spring at the Clements Library

Post by Jayne Ptolemy, Reading Room Supervisor

We may have gotten several inches of snow in Ann Arbor Monday night, but at the Clements Library we are looking to our collections to get us in the spirit of spring. Flowers are not fully in bloom in Michigan, but they are represented beautifully in the William L. Clements Library’s holdings.

The Charles E. Flandrau Letters in the Manuscripts Division includes a short note that Flandrau, a lawyer who had recently moved to Minnesota, sent to Fanny on April 18, 1855. “Accept the first flower of spring that bloomed on my prairie,” Flandrau wrote, “with the kindest wishes of your old friend and admirer.” This lovely floral token still accompanies the letter, hinting at the longstanding joys that spring’s early blossoms bring each year.

Charles E. Flandrau to Fanny, April 18, 1855, from the Charles E. Flandrau Letters, William L. Clements Library. 

The Hopkins Family Papers contain some beautiful botanical illustrations from the Vermont Flower Book, hand-colored in 1834 by Bishop John Henry Hopkins, the first bishop of Vermont, and his children. The collection also includes watercolors of flowers painted by Hopkins’ mother, Elizabeth Fitackerly. Even if nature has not offered up a full bouquet of blossoms yet, you can still find some lovely floral displays in our Manuscripts Division.

For a wonderful array of pressed spring flowers, look to the Lily Frémont Flower Album in our Graphics Division. Lily Frémont, the daughter of explorer, politician, and army officer John C. Frémont, compiled this album in 1859 while living on the family estate in Mariposa, California. She preserved and mounted the flowers and often provided details about where they grew. A sample of Wild Larkspur comes with a description of its poisonous qualities that caused cattle to graze elsewhere. She noted, “It grows so close together that as you ride along it makes the effect of a blue plain.” As spring advances, the promise of the landscape’s colorful transformation can help spur us through the season’s cold snaps.

Entry number 39, Lily Frémont Flower Album, William L. Clements Library. 

The Clements’ Book Division has a variety of texts about botany and gardening, and it also includes some lovely illustrated books. Take, for example, Emma C. Embury’s American Wild Flowers in their Native Haunts, published in 1845.

Plate from Emma C. Embury, American wild flowers in their native haunts, by Emma C. Embury. With twenty plates, carefully colored after nature; and landscape views of their localities from drawings on the spot, by E. Whitfield (New York: D. Appleton & Co, 1845). 

With lushly colored plates depicting flowers blooming in front of various landscapes, the book reminds us of “Nature’s Gems” that are about to reappear… once the snow melts.