A practical gift…with a rare provenance

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

“But wait! There’s more!”

Stacy Stoldt is never not working on an exhibition.

Even when the Lenhardt Library’s public services manager is staffing the desk, answering reference questions, and locating articles for staff, the “million and one” details involved in putting together the library’s four annual rare book exhibitions are percolating in her brain.

PHOTO: Stacy Stoldt organizing bookshelves.
Stacy Stoldt awaits patrons in the Lenhardt Libary.

Stoldt has streamlined the process since she first began working at the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2007, but it remains a lot of work to curate an exhibition. “There’s the research, the writing, the editing, the design, the approvals,” she said last month. “Here we are in January, and we’re in the design phase of our next exhibition, which opens in February, but back in November I was already meeting with someone about books for an exhibition that opens this May. There’s always a deadline looming.”

Stoldt loves her work, and one of her chief pleasures is deciding which literary treasures will be selected. It is a process involving research, more research, and finally, she says, just a bit more research. The excitement of finding the perfect volume has prompted Stoldt to burst into song (just ask cataloger Ann Anderson, a neighbor in the basement office who sometimes joins in).

The public services manager and her colleagues have many volumes from which to choose: in 2002, the Lenhardt Library acquired a magnificent collection of 2,000 rare books and 2,000 historic journals from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society of Boston.

An Exhibition Takes Shape

PHOTO: A meeting with a dozen people gatherered around rare books.
Stoldt shows rare books to a group in the rare book reading room.

Before Stoldt begins hunting down books, there are meetings to decide Lenhardt Library exhibition topics for the year. That process begins with a brainstorming session including Stoldt, Lenhardt Library Director Leora Siegel, and Rare Books Curator Ed Valauskas. Sometimes the trio bases their topics on themes within the collection, such as the upcoming succulent show that features the work of A.P. de Candolle and botanical-rock-star-illustrator Pierre-Joseph Redouté.

Alternatively, they might collaborate with another botanical library on a theme, as happened when the Lenhardt Library team worked with the New York Botanical Garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library on the recent exhibition Healing Plants: Illustrated Herbals. Other times, they select topics that complement events held at the Garden, such as Butterflies in Print: Lepidoptera Defined, which ran in conjunction with last summer’s Butterflies & Blooms.

Newest Exhibition Focuses on Orchids

PHOTO: An illustration of Masdevallia coccinea from an illustrated book panel.
The Lenhardt Library’s newest exhibition, Exotic Orchids: Orchestrated in Print, runs through Sunday, May 11. This image is from Xenia Orchidaceae: Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Orchideen, by Heinrich Gustave Reichenbach.

The newest Lenhardt Library exhibition complements the Orchid Show and is titled Exotic Orchids: Orchestrated in Print. Running through Sunday, May 11, it features such rare books as Charles Darwin’s seminal On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects, and on the Good Effects of Intercrossing, published in 1862. Another item is Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, with a beautiful color illustration of Angraecum sesquipedale, also known as Darwin’s orchid. “One doesn’t come alive without the other,” said Stoldt. “I’m always trying to put the connections together for people.”

For some exhibitions, Stoldt does it all—A to Z. For others, she receives the researched text, citations, and selected illustrations from Valauskas or Siegel and develops the material into an exhibition. Once the topics are established, research is completed, and explanatory text is written and edited, graphic designers enter the picture. Stoldt selects images from the featured books to use with the accompanying text, and then the designers work their magic. Along the way, Stoldt and Siegel review the progress. The result is an exhibition compelling not only for its content but for its elegant layout, which extends throughout the display cases that greet visitors as they enter the library.

Accompanying library talks are on Tuesday, February 18, and Sunday, March 9, at 2 p.m.

“For our new Exotic Orchids exhibition, we really wanted to show some bling!” said Stoldt. Within the Rare Book Collection, there was so much to choose from on orchids that she found the selection process daunting. Visitors to the exhibition will find the beauty and science of orchids well-represented, and discover items about orchid conservation and preservation as well.

Art Conservation Key to Documenting Plants

Stoldt noted that conserving the books and the artwork that document a plant’s existence is almost as important as preserving the actual plant. In cases two and three of Exotic Orchids, there are select illustrations from two orchid collections, Les Orchidées (1890) and Les Orchidées et les Plantes de Serre (1900–10), which the Lenhardt Library recently had conserved by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) through grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

How did the conservation process work? Professionally trained book and paper conservators removed the illustrations from their original acidic bindings; then the inks were tested, the surfaces were cleaned, and the illustrations were digitally photographed. Then the illustrations were placed in chemically stable folders and housed in custom-made boxes made from lignin-free archival boards. Conservation completed!

ILLUSTRATION: An unidentified Cypripedium, or slipper orchid.
Cypripedium VIII. color plate

The Rare Book Collection

Stoldt recently brought out some rare volumes to demonstrate the variety within the Rare Book Collection. As noted on its web page, the collection reflects a relationship between people and the plant kingdom that has been documented since the earliest days of print, when botanists were not simply plant describers, but explorers.

Out came volume after volume, with Stoldt pointing out noteworthy details about each. Among them was the oldest book in the collection, Historia Plantarum, written by Theophrastus (d. 287 B.C.E.) and published in 1483 (it has some unusual marginalia). There was also an exquisite Japanese book on flower arranging, Nageire Kadensho: Saishokuzu Iri, published in 1684 and donated by longtime library volunteer Adele Klein. Stoldt continued her informal presentation with seemingly boundless enthusiasm, finishing with lush life-size images from The Orchid Album, published between 1882 and 1897.

More than once, Stoldt returned a book to the vault at the end of the show-and-tell only to call, “but wait! There’s more!” as she glimpsed another book she absolutely had to show. This librarian really, really loves her books. And she feels very protective of them.

Stoldt recalled the horror she felt once when she was installing an exhibition, with a rare book exposed nearby on a book “cradle”: “There was a sign that said ‘Exhibit installation in progress: please do not touch the rare books,’ but this person came in from the rain and loomed over it, dripping wet. I got her out of the way, but that was a close one.”

Cultivating Relationships

More often, visitors are sensitive to the delicate state of the Garden’s rare books. Some Garden members make a point of coming to each new exhibition and attending the free gallery talk. “One patron always calls from Wisconsin to find out about the next talk,” said Stoldt. “And once, a library regular who came to a talk told me how much she loved the book Brother Gardeners [about eighteenth-century gardeners who brought American plants to England]. I was able to show her some books by the book’s featured plantsmen, including Joseph Banks, John Bartram, and Phillip Miller, among others. It’s what I call an ‘on-demand rare-book viewing.’ She was thrilled. These are the kinds of things that lead to relationships with people.”

Devoted patrons feel that the library and its exhibitions enhance their lives; in turn, some are moved to enhance the Rare Book Collection. “We have our patrons, and then we have our patron saints,” said Stoldt. One patron who came to the 2009 exhibit on Kew Garden’s 250th anniversary enjoyed the accompanying talk by Ed Valauskas so much that she donated the 1777 edition of Cook’s Voyage, or A Voyage Towards the South Pole, by Captain James Cook, which had been in her family for family for decades. And longtime members John and Mary Helen Slater made it possible for the library to acquire 11 volumes of Warner’s Orchid Album.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Stoldt loves to see the excitement she feels about the Garden’s Rare Book Collection spreading to a new generation. She recalled a day when a grandfather brought his grandson to the library, and the child asked to see a rare book. “I asked him what he was interested in, and he said, ‘poisonous plants.’ First, I showed him Histoire des Plantes Vénéneuses et Suspectes de la France by Bulliard, a book on poisonous plants written in French from the eighteenth century, but what really spoke to him was a book with the ‘coolest illustrations!’ entitled Poisonous Plants, Deadly, Dangerous and Suspect, Engraved on Wood, 1927, by John Nash. This kid was just amazed. I love seeing young readers light up when they’ve found something intriguing for them in print. It’s heart-warming.”

ILLUSTRATION: Cattleya aclandiae.
Cattleya aclandiae from a rare book color plate

Although that particular drop-in visit and viewing request occurred on a busy weekend day, another library staff member was available to manage the circulation desk while Stoldt showed the books. “I can’t stress enough the importance of making an appointment for a viewing,” she said. “Besides kids, grandparents, and garden clubs, people from all over the world come to Lenhardt Library to see primary resources they can’t find elsewhere. We’ve had writers and scholars from England and the Netherlands, and even a Thai princess, come to see the Rare Book Collection. Everyone is welcome.”

Don’t be surprised if you come to see one specific book in the collection and end up seeing many more. It will be a visit you won’t forget!

Rare book viewings are by appointment only during the hours of 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, subject to availability. For an appointment, call (847) 835-8201.

Click here to purchase tickets to the Orchid Show online.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Book Sale That Speaks Volumes

In gardening, small things often have larger meaning. A single flower, pressed, becomes a memory for life; an acorn planted on a whim can grow to shade a city block. Such is the case with the humble rolling cart marked “Book Sale” parked just inside the Lenhardt Library’s doors. It’s connected to a much larger story.

The cart rolls out as summer (and visitor attendance) ramps up; this year’s rollout date is June 7. All of the books on it are garden-related, and most are donations brought in by folks like you. Other books are deaccessioned from the library’s stacks. Prices for both hardbound books and paperbacks are modest, and the cart is replenished throughout the season. In short, what gardener could resist?

Last year, more than 500 books were sold.

This is where the story grows. With last year’s proceeds, the library then purchased a rare book (actually a two-volume set): Flora Boreali-Americana by André Michaux.

Have any gardening books you’d like to donate? Call the library at (847) 835-8201 to arrange a drop-off (garden topics only, please). A librarian will cross-check the index to see if they’re needed in the collection; if not, they’ll be added to the sale.

Last year's book sale generated enough funds to purchase this 1830 edition of Flora boreali-americana
Last year’s book sale generated enough funds to purchase this 1820 edition of Flora Boreali-Americana.

What a story behind this book! Ed Valauskas, our rare book curator, tells the tale:

In 1785, France’s King Louis XVI sent André Michaux (1746–1802) to the United States to collect plants for use as building materials, for medicine, and in agriculture. (France had used up its natural wealth of forests.) With his then 15-year-old son Francois André (1770–1855), gardener Pierre Saunier, and domestic Jacques Renaud, Michaux spent the next 11 years shipping boxes of plants back to France. This was thanks to collecting trips throughout the new country, plus experiments at two gardens—one established in New Jersey, on 11 acres opposite New York City, and another on more than 110 acres in Charleston, South Carolina.

This work is one of two significant publications resulting from Michaux’s efforts in the United States at the end of the eighteenth century. Initiated by André, Flora Boreali-Americana (Flora of North America) was largely completed by his son.

PHOTO: an illustration panel.
The black-and-white illustrations are by one of the world’s foremost botanical illustrators, Pierre-Joseph Redouté.

Significantly, this 1820 edition is simply a reissue of the original 1803 edition. The only change is a different title page. This edition is scarcer than the original 1803 release. The copper engraving illustrations in this publication were executed by the most important illustrator of his time, Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840).

Leora Siegel, director of the Lenhardt Library, purchased the set for the Garden’s rare book collection in September 2012. It’s a beauty, with original leather bindings and marbleized paper endsheets. And those incredible Redouté illustrations! Like most of the books in our rare book collection, it can be viewed at the library by appointment.

And so it is that a small thing (a used gardening book) has larger meaning:

  • You, the gardener, get to recycle books you’ve known and loved into the hands of other gardeners.
  • Garden and Lenhardt Library visitors get the chance to learn about gardening while purchasing a book for a song.
  • The library gets to build its rare book collection simply by providing the venue for the exchange.

What does Siegel have her eye on this year? American Medical Botany: Being a Collection of the Native Medicinal Plants of the United States, by Jacob Bigelow, published in 1817.

I’m heading over to the bookshelves now and starting a donation stack!

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Dedicated to the one I love

Early last summer I noticed a small row of books, bracketed by nice-looking bookends, on a shelf behind the front desk at the Lenhardt Library. “Those are our dedication books,” explained Leora Siegel, library director. “If visitors or members would like to pay tribute to someone special or mark a special occasion, they can dedicate a book in the library in the same way that they might dedicate a tree or a bench in other Garden areas.”

Click here to find out more about a book dedication or other tribute gift today.

Later that summer, my mom passed away. As my thoughts eventually turned to a memorial or tribute, I remembered Leora’s words, and asked her to walk me through the process of book dedication. Turns out there are three “levels” to consider for dedication. Here’s how they work:

Level 1: General Book Dedication

Each year, approximately 100 newly-purchased books are set aside specifically for the tribute program—that’s the bookended group you’ll find on the shelf. Topics are garden-related, of course, but very diverse—and if you don’t see the topic you’re looking for, the staff will work with you to find the right book.

  • Ask a librarian to share the list of current selections, and page through the books you’re interested in.
  • Choose a title, then fill out a book dedication form, including copy for the bookplate.
  • After the bookplate is printed and mounted, you’ll be notified that it has taken its place on the library shelves.
  • The fee ($50 to $150, depending on the book) helps to fund the tribute program.

Your dedication remains there for the life of the book on our library shelves.

Level 2: Conservation Book Dedication

By dedicating a book in need of conservation—the TLC that mends, rebuilds, and stabilizes it—you not only pay special personal tribute, but also save a badly damaged book for future generations to enjoy. Quite a tribute, indeed.

  • Review the library’s list of books in need of conservation—a truly interesting, unusual, and long list (lots of books need TLC).
  • Make an appointment to view your choice in the Rare Book Room at the library.
  • Discuss the conservation required and appropriate fee (generally $500 to $1,000).
  • Provide text for the special conservation tribute bookplate.

Naturally, every conservation book requires a labor of love—a typical restoration time frame is three months. After conservation work is completed, you’re invited to view the restored volume before it takes its place in the Rare Book area.

Level 3: Rare Book Dedication

Although the cover of the book is plain, inside are Intricate watercolors of 57 different orchid varieties.
Although the cover of the book is plain, inside are intricate watercolors of 57 different orchid varieties.

When I decided to look into book dedication, I had two ideas in mind: first, that a book from 1933 would be a good choice, as that was the year of my mother’s birth; and, second, that a book about orchids would also work, as orchids were my mother’s favorite flowers.

Leora searched the rare book lists and, incredibly, came up with a volume that fit both ideas: Native British Orchidaceae, a beautifully-illustrated monograph on orchids that was published in 1933 (at right). The book was originally in the Chicago Horticultural Society library–that’s our parent organization.

The process for a rare book dedication is akin to a conservation book (although without the repair/wait time). Naturally, the fee for a rare book dedication is greater, depending on the rarity of the book (fees available upon discussion and request).

Ultimately, I chose to honor my mother with a dedication in this orchid book, knowing that she would have loved it, and that my donation would go toward other restorations and rare book purchases.

The bookplate for both conservation and rare books is simple and elegant.
The bookplate for both conservation and rare books is simple and elegant.

And I’ve come to realize that a library is so much more than a place of communal knowledge—it is also a place of communal memory. Now, every time that I open a library book, I peek at the endpages first to see if there’s a bookplate. Who will this book be dedicated to? Perhaps it’s from a group that wants to honor a leader or friend. Or it’s to celebrate a memorable trip, or a fantastic garden, or a new baby born into the family. Or maybe it’s to a mom who loved orchids.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org