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ABA at The RHS Lindley Library

London - 2023

Jessica Hudson shows members of the group the Victoria regia, (Royal Water-Lily) figures from specimens flowering at Syon and Kew (William Hooker, 1851. Walter Hood Fitch is credited as artist and lithographer).

On the 26th September a group of ABA members were treated to a fascinating afternoon hosted by Charlotte Brooks - Art Curator of the Royal Horticultural Society, Lindley Library and Jessica Hudson - Rare Books Librarian.

For those of you who could not be with us here is a flavour of what we saw and some additional links so you can treat yourself to a deeper dive into the wonderful library collection.

Clare Newton - 'Seeds of Change'

We started with a Lindley Library, Live Lunchtime Talk by photographer Clare Newton on her RHS funded bursary - 'Seeds of Change'. Clare outlined the work being carried out in Edinburgh University using dandelion seeds as a blueprint in the development of a cyber-seed. The key is their pappus or parachute that enables widespread seed dispersal.

These cyber-seeds are being designed so they could drift through the atmosphere, in the same way as a dandelion seed, but would be used to analyse the atmosphere using a microcomputer located in the position of the seed.

Clare also worked in collaboration with Queens University in Belfast to look at their work with plant root growth. The goal is to translate growth patterns into the creation of artificial printed 3D lattices in the building of bridges. See Clare's blog post SEEDS OF CHANGE to learn more.

The Lindley Library is over 200 years old and holds one of the most extensive collections of early printed books, botanical art collections and modern books on the history of horticulture and botanical art.

'The Grete Herball' by Peter Treveris - 1526

Our tour of the library was a rare opportunity to view some selected items from the 100,000 books in the collection which is open to researchers with prior booking. However, for our visit, Jessica Hudson had chosen a selection of volumes that took us from some of the earliest block printed editions up to examples from the early 19th Century.

Our first treat was 'The Grete Herball'' - 1526. Printed by Peter Treveris, this is the the earliest illustrated encyclopedia produced in England with simplistic woodcuts depicting plants, animals, people, and garden scenes. One of the magic elements about a visit to a library with volumes like the Grete Herball , is the simple point that these books were printed nearly 500 years ago. Woodcuts to smart phones, let's say a little different.

Tabulae phytographicae by Johannes Gessner, 1795

From these rather simple woodcuts illustrators tried many different methods using naturalistic printing including pressing dried, inked specimens, onto the paper before hand colouring the detail. In contrast to these rather simple illustrations there are the sumptuous composite images. For example the Tabulae phytographicae by Johannes Gessner, 1795 where the stunning images were produced by the miniaturist Christian Gottleib Geissler (1729-1814) . You can have a close up look at these in the RHS Lindley Library digital collection.

Next on the list was some examples from Curtis's Botanical Magazine founded in 1787 - the world’s longest running, continuously published botanical periodical, featuring original colour illustrations of plants. Examples shown were hand coloured and very small print runs by artists including William Hooker, Walter Hood Fitch, Sarah Anne Drake and Lillian Snelling. The current editor is Martin Rix.

The second part of the tour was a focus on a selection of botanical artworks from the RHS's extensive collection. This was led by Charlotte who chose a selection of images which used a variety of artistic techniques and composition to illustrate particular stories about the plant they were portraying. Images ranged from early printed works, to contemporary artists using pen and ink, watercolour, acrylic inks and coloured pencils. Many of the illustrations contained a great deal of detail and magnifying lenses were needed to fully appreciate the artists' talent. As they say a picture tells a thousand words.

Charlotte with 'Fading Away in Epping Forest'

A perfect example was 'Fading Away in Epping Forest' - a beautiful image of a veteran Beech tree in Epping Forest near London by ABA member Sandra Doyle. Seeing the original was a personal pleasure as I had previously bought a print from Sandra after it was submitted to our ReflectionS Exhibition - 2021. To capture the drama and all the salient parts of the tree, Sandra chose to illustrate the tree from below. As a composition this reflected the 'presence' this venerable tree held in the forest. That is, the image told a story.

Charlotte also pointed out that an artist who wants to illustrate, lets say, the development of a subject from flower to fruit as part of a story has to be mindful of the placement of each of the individual subjects in the whole composition.

The detail

Both examples, from the large to the small highlighted the importance of thinking carefully about the story a piece of artwork was trying to tell. This is before the brush or the pencil or the pen is put to paper.

All our members agreed that the visit to the Lindley Library underlined that one way to improve our own artistic skills was to study images produced by other award winning botanical artists. See the story through the subject and composition and the way this is presented in techniques and the detail.

And finally a few words from ABA Member, Joyce Bradbeer who was one of our lucky members who had the opportunity to visit on the day.

'Jessica’s talk about the books she had selected was very impressive and it was incredible to see all those lovely paintings selected by Charlotte. Looking through the magnifying glass at the paintings by Jackie Isard and Pauline Trim just showed their amazing skill in creating greater clarity and makes me admire their work even more! What a wonderful opportunity we all had to view the paintings at such close quarters.'

We all had a great day and huge thanks must go to the team at the RHS Lindley Library, particularly Charlotte Brooks and Jessica Hudson, the perfect hosts.

Elaine Allison - 2023

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