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Clicking Through Time

Undercover Science

Julianne Beck —  October 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

In 1860s New Hampshire, botanical artist Ellen Robbins perched before her canvas, creating wildly popular watercolors of fall leaves. Books of her paintings sold well, landing in the hands of high society members such as fellow artist Gertrude Graves, a cousin of poet Emily Dickinson. Graves presented her copy of one such volume, Autumnal Leaves, to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1923, where it remained until being acquired by the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2002. Today, the historic, storied volume is accessible to us all via a visually crisp, easily navigated online library.

ILLUSTRATION: autumnal leaves.

Selection from Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins

Autumnal Leaves is one of the historic books, postcards, and similar materials digitized and conserved by the Garden in recent years and now accessible via the Internet.

“It just opens up the opportunities for more people to see the wonderful pieces that we have,” said Leora Siegel, director of the Garden’s Lenhardt Library, which was established by the Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society in 1951.

The Lenhardt Library’s impressive collection includes materials dating from 1483 to 1917, which are now available online to an expanded audience.

“In this age of e-books, these primary resources are something different. They are something really important to our civilization and culture,” said Siegel, who is delighted to help the public, scientists, historians, and artists from around the world access the remarkable materials.

PHOTO: Leora Siegel.

Leora Siegel directs the Garden libraries.

Publications originating in North America are predominant in the collection. Western European books that once resided in the private family libraries of dukes and earls are also included. In some cases, bookplates were traced back to their original owners.

“They were in private libraries and only the family could read them, and now they are on the web and anyone can get to them,” remarked Siegel. The international component of the digitized collection also includes ikebana illustrations from Japan.

These materials were part of a collection of some 2,000 rare books and 2,000 historic periodical titles collected by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society of Boston before being purchased by the Garden in 2002. Since that time, grants including a $172,000 award from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2011, allowed the Garden to digitize 45 of the books that have traveled time and distance to reach us today.

What did South America’s tropical vegetation look like to illustrator Baron Alexander von Humboldt in the 1850s? How was the Horticultural Building portrayed in Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition?

The answers can be found in the preserved volumes and vintage postcards accessible via the Illinois Digital Archives and the Garden’s new digitized illustrations website, launched in September.

Front of advertising card showing the Horticultural Building at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, with inset of company logo.

Front of advertising card showing the Horticultural Building at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, with inset of company logo.

Front of postcard showing a rowboat on a lake in front of the Horticultural Building at the World's Fair grounds in Chicago, 1934.

Front of postcard showing a rowboat on a lake in front of the Horticultural Building at the World’s Fair grounds in Chicago, 1934.

The new site houses illustrations from a significant number of titles and interpretive notes, and it is continuously updated with material. From books on grafting plants to postcards from flower shows, there is much to discover with cultural and scientific relevance.

ILLUSTRATION: Selection from Water-color Sketched of Plants of North America 1888 to 1910.

Selection from Water-color Sketches of Plants of North America 1888 to 1910 by Helen Sharp, Volume 08

“The botanical illustrations come close to our herbarium specimens in many cases because you really see the roots and the life cycle of the plant,” noted Siegel.

The majority of materials were digitized offsite by the premier art conservation center in the United States, the Northeast Document Conservation Center. When the processed files arrive at the Garden, metadata is added by Garden librarian Christine Schmidt. She then adds the files to a software program that allows them to be accessed through either website. A volunteer photographer also contributes to the files. In the most recent set of 45 digitized volumes, 18 are currently being processed and prepared for the site.

While the rare books are still available by appointment to those who can make it into the library, many of the books are delicate and will benefit from an increased percentage of online viewing into the future.

ILLUSTRATION: Bookplate from "Physiognomy of Tropical Vegetation in South America"

Selection from Physiognomy of Tropical Vegetation in South America: a series of views illustrating the primeval forests on the river Magdalena, and in the Andes of New Grenada

Allowing access to these materials online has yielded many rewards for those who made it possible, from contributing to research around the world to the reproduction of selected images in new book publications, which is done with special permission from the Lenhardt Library.

“People are really blown away,” according to Siegel. Garden exhibitions have benefited from the collection as well, such as the winter Orchid Show exhibition, which was enhanced by complimentary full-text access to some of the rare books from the online portal.

Next, Siegel hopes to digitize the Garden’s collection of an estimated 20,000 pages of manuscripts of scientists’ field notes.

“We have some unique one-of-a-kind manuscripts that no one else has,” she said. “This is just the start.”

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Parents: Read This

And there's a tattoo, too!

Karen Z. —  June 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

It’s a fact: kids can lose valuable reading skills during summer break. It’s called “summer slide,” and the loss can be large—two months worth of lost reading skills is not unusual over the summer, and teachers will tell you that retraining in fall regularly takes up precious class time.

It’s also a fact: by reading just 20 minutes per day, your child maintains his or her reading level through the summer. 

At the Lenhardt Library, our creative librarians have come up with a fun way to help you make the latter happen.

Bookcover: There's a Hair in my Dirt! A Worm's Story.

Bookcover: Homegrown Honey Bees: An Absolute Beginner's Guide.

Bookcover: Compost Stew, An A to Z Recipe for the Earth.

Bookcover: Attracting Butterflies to your Garden.

Bookcover: The Plant Hunters.

Bookcover: Jardineria Facil para Ninos.

Sign up now to be a Summer Nature Explorer at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Between May 31 and August 17, your child can read books and have fun at drop-in activities, earning stamps and prizes—encouragements that help kids stave off reading loss.

It’s also our library’s link to the National Science Foundation’s STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) that aims to increase science skills in the United States. Here’s the foundation’s interesting and fact-filled site: www.nsf.gov/nsb/sei/edTool.

Here’s how our Summer Reading and Nature Program works:

  • Sign up at the Lenhardt Library. Take home a reading and activity log.
  • Read a book; get a stamp. The log helps you keep track of your books.
  • Play at a Family Drop-In Activity; get a stamp. Great for reluctant readers who learn critical thinking skills in different ways.
  • Earn 5 stamps; get a prize. Bring your child to the library for the prize—we don’t want to give away the surprise!
  • Earn 10 stamps; get a prize. At 10 books, the reader earns the temporary frog tattoo shown below.
  • Earn 15 stamps; get a prize. Hint: it’s something to tuck into your backpack for school.
  • Earn 20 stamps; get a big prize. We’ll hand the proud reader a free ticket for his/her admission to Butterflies & Blooms. (Parents, you can sign up, read some great books, and earn your own free ticket, too!) 
  • Here’s the link for more details: chicagobotanic.org/library/summer_reading.

ILLUSTRATION: A cartoon of a frog reading a book.

Not reading yet? Even the pre-K set can sign up! Parents/adults can earn stamps/prizes for littler kids by reading books to them—that’s how a lifelong love of reading begins! (Of course, little kids love getting the same treats as their already-reading siblings, too.)

Of course, members have check-out privileges at the library, but nonmembers are welcome to sit and read—the reading nook (pillows on the floor, kid-sized reading table) has been known to attract many a bookworm parent, too. On the library shelves, look on book spines for:

  • Yellow dots = Books for the 2 to 6 crowd
  • Yellow dots with blue stars = For readers 7 to 10
  • Yellow dots with red stars = Spanish-language books for kids
  • Blue tape = New to our collection!

Family Drop-in Activities shake up the routine with a roster of unusual, nature-based activities: kids might dissect a seed at the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden…or search for underwater creatures at Kleinman Family Cove…or make a samurai mask at the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden. Drop-in activities take place every summer day—for the line-up and locations, go to chicagobotanic.org/forfamilies.

And did we mention that it’s all free?

Happy summer reading, and we look forward to seeing you at the circulation desk!

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

In early May, I was gratified to hear that the Lenhardt Library’s application to become an affiliate member at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) had been accepted. BHL is an open access, all digital repository of biodiversity literature.

PHOTO: View into the Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

The Lenhardt Library is open to the public. Garden members may borrow materials for 28 days.

BHL founding member libraries are based at universities, botanical gardens, and natural history museums, and include renowned institutions such as the Missouri Botanical Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Harvard University, and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

These libraries contribute digital scans of books and journals in their collections. All pages are freely accessible through the BHL portal. Constantly updated, as of today, BHL includes 43,697,651 pages of biodiversity literature. Users of biodiversity literature are researchers based around the globe with nodes in Europe, Australia, and China. BHL also serves as the foundational literature component of the Encyclopedia of Life.

Plans for the Lenhardt Library’s involvement are to contribute literature unique to our collections and not held at other libraries. That may mean adding early volumes that pre-date current content in BHL, filling in missing horticulture resources, or adding volumes from the rare book collection.

Another recent Lenhardt Library affiliation is with the Center for Research Libraries (CRL). CRL is a library’s library with holdings of 5 million items. The Lenhardt Library joined this consortium of academic and research libraries to gain access to these materials to fulfill library research needs for the Chicago Botanic Garden’s staff and visitors.

Partnerships and collaborations are vital to small research libraries such as the Lenhardt Library for advancement and growth. Library collections and resource sharing ensures literature is available for study, scholarship, and scientific advancement.


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A friend/colleague recently gifted me with a new Chicago Botanic Garden office mug—so appropriate since she knows I don’t go anywhere without a cup of tea. What she didn’t know was that I’d soon be digging into the Rare Book Collection at the Lenhardt Library because of it.

PHOTO: Delicate orchids decorate a white china tea mug.

My new office mug…tells quite a story.

View all the items in the Orchid Show collection.

On the cup is a lovely graphic design of orchids—a topic that’s very top of mind here because of the Orchid Show, now in its final week at the Garden (click here for tickets). Fueled by a new-found love of the family Orchidaceae (a classic case of orchid fever), I took a closer look at the design. Was that a slipper orchid? Which one? What was the story behind it?

Turns out the design stemmed from one of the Garden’s great treasures: our Rare Book Collection. At the Lenhardt Library, director Leora Siegel related the history and details.

The drawings are by Henry Lambert, from a portfolio of 20 plates published as Les Orchidées et les Plantes de Serre; Études. The plates are chromotypogravures (a nineteenth-century French style of photolithography); Paris bookseller Armand Guérinet compiled and issued them in portfolio form, rather than as a book, between 1900 and 1910.

PHOTO: Illustrated orchids from Les Orchidees par Henry Lambert.

The portfolio’s title translates as Orchids and Plants of the Greenhouse; Studies.

The portfolio entered the Garden’s collection in 2002 as part of the purchase of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s rare books. In need of TLC—“bumpy, bruised, and dirty,” according to Siegel—the loose prints were sent for conservation to the prestigious Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in 2011. (Read more about the process in this recent blog.)

Looking lively upon their return in 2012, the plates then became contenders for an interesting project: the development of the Garden’s own line of merchandise to complement the Orchid Show. Of ten finalists, Plate 4 from the portfolio won out, as seen here in the Illinois Digital Archives (page 8).

Two orchids share the plate. The daintier, spotted, clustered flower is identified as Saccolabium giganteum (later re-classified Rhynchostylis gigantea), an orchid that’s native to Myanmar (formerly Burma). In 1893, its habitat was described as “where the hot winds blow and where the thermometer in the dry season is about 45 degrees Celsius (112 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade….” (Veitch, A Manual of Orchidaceous Plants…).  The American Orchid Society has a nice write-up about this species and its varieties here.

The slipper orchid Cypripedium schrodere is listed in the 1906 Hortus Veitchii as Cypripedium (Selenipedium) x Schröderae, with the note, “It is one of the finest of the Selenipedia hybrids, and was named as a compliment to the late Baroness Schröder of the Dell, Egham.” Nomenclature for lady slipper orchids gets complicated; the American Orchid Society goes deep into the history here.

PHOTO: Montage of orchid-related products in the Garden Shop.

A Mother’s Day (May 11) gift idea: an exclusive Orchid Show item, plus the promise of a trip to the Orchid Show in 2015!

Next, a graphic design specialist worked with the orchid illustrations, using a bit of creative license to fit the prints to the shape of the products: the cut of a coaster, the drape of a tote, the curve of a coffee cup. From that work came the Garden’s exclusive collection—it’s only available online and at the Garden Shop!—of items that are practical, meant for everyday use, yet connected to a deeper story.

Good design transcends time. It’s quiet, yet thought-provoking. Now that I know the story behind the orchid design, I look at my friend’s gift differently.

Come to think of it, it’s time for a nice cup of tea…

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

As I compiled the latest rare book exhibition at the Lenhardt Library, I got to know several fascinating women from the past. They were among the first women to be recognized as botanical illustrators, and their work opened doors for generations of women to follow. The exhibition, Feminine Perspective: Women Artists and Illustrators, running through November 10, traces the development of women in the field of botanical illustration from at-home hobbyists to professional artists who were published under their own names, with their works represented in the respectable journals, displayed in galleries and art shows, and accepted professionally.

ILLUSTRATION: Rigid-leaved Gorteria (Gorteria rigens).

Rigid-leaved gorteria (Gorteria rigens) by Henrietta Moriarty from the Rare Book Collection of the Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

For Henrietta Moriarty who published in 1807 London, botany was a moral dilemma. The renowned botanical theory of plant classification by Carl Linnaeus discusses plant reproduction and reproductive plant parts; the material was decidedly not appropriate for a proper Victorian woman and outright dangerous for a young girl. Moriarty solves this moral dilemma by writing and illustrating her own book, Fifty Plates of Green-House Plants, Drawn and Coloured from Nature, with concise descriptions and rules for their culture. Intended for the improvement of young ladies in the art of drawing, second edition, 1807.

Her 50 botanical illustrations are each hand-colored and focused on the beautiful flower with a botanical description but lack any discussion or representation of plant reproductive processes. Moriarty, a widow with children, needed to support her family and found writing and illustrating a botany book to be productive. She presold 180 copies by subscription. View each page of this lovely book online at the Illinois Digital Archives.

ILLUSTRATION: Italian pimpernel (Anagallis monellis).

Italian pimpernel (Anagallis monellis) by Henrietta Moriarty from the Rare Book Collection of the Lenhardt Library of the Chicago Botanic Garden

To hear more stories on the personal circumstances and the success of women in botanical illustration, come into the library! We’d love to share more about these illustrators and more:

Henriette Antoinette Vincent (1786 – 1830)
Ellen Robbins (1828 – 1905)
Lady Harriet Ann Thiselton-Dyer (1854 – 1945)

For a schedule of upcoming exhibitions and library talks, click here.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org