Gardening by the book–Celebrating 100 years of The Garden Club of America is currently on view at The Grolier Club in NYC. The exhibition cases are filled to the brim with incredibly beautiful and meticulously detailed botanical illustrations.
Hidden amongst the books one can find two copies of Elizabeth Blackwell‘s A Curious Herbal. Elizabeth (1707-1758) received drawing and painting courses as a young girl prior to her marriage to physician-turned-printer Alexander Blackwell.
Research describes Alexander as a ‘shady’ character and his avoidance of fines landed him in debtor’s prison. The necessity of paying her husband’s fines caused Elizabeth to embark on her book project, listing and illustrating 500 medicinal plants. She sought the approval of the Society of Apothecaries and once received, took up residence very near the Chelsea Physic Garden to be in close proximity to her primary sources–the plants residing in this teaching garden. She draw, engraved and hand colored all of the illustrations, a task normally done by three people (draftsperson, engraver and painter). From her meticulous drawings, Alexander provided the proper names for each plant, resulting in her engraving of all of the text. The illustrations were released weekly in groups of four for 125 weeks between 1737 and 1739.
I would love to have a copy of Ms. Blackwell’s work in my library, for the moment I am enjoying the selected pages in the online gallery from the British Museum.