Visiting a new exhibit at a museum can be a moment of perfection. Freshly painted walls, meticulously hung pieces, descriptive text, and targeted lighting all combine to create an experience that takes the viewer to a new place and offers a fresh perspective on the world.
But believe us when we say that getting there is quite a journey!
Here are a few pictures of the assembly process going on right now at FCMoD for the upcoming exhibit Earth from Space, opening November 18.
This exhibit – part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) – features spectacular satellite imagery collected over the past 30 years which allows us to observe oceans, mountains, land surfaces, and human activity with a unique perspective. Rare views of events such as dust storms, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes are accompanied by text that explains how satellite imagery is gathered and utilized. Included in the exhibit is a digital video globe that displays global processes such as ocean temperature and weather patterns.
Come see Earth from Space, at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, opening November 18.
RARE II – at FCMoD from May 6 to August 6 – is an exhibit of contemporary botanical illustrations depicting globally imperiled plants found in Colorado. Members of the Rocky Mountain Society of Botanical Artists created these works of art using the Master List of Rare Plants (produced by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program). I hope you have a chance to see this rare combination of scientific accuracy, aesthetic appeal, and technical mastery.
Which brings me to my subject today: a glimpse at the role botanical illustration played in the early history of science.
Surgeons traveling with the Roman army – including Greeks Dioscorides (circa 40-90 AD) and Galen (131-200 AD) – compiled herbals (text + drawings) that remained the primary materia medica texts for centuries (by some accounts, at least 1500 years). Herbalism traditions were preserved through the middle ages in the monasteries of Britain and Europe, where monks copied and translated works of Hippocrates, Dioscorides, Galen, and non-Western scientists like Ibn Sina (aka Avicenna). The advent of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century created unprecedented access to mass-produced books, some of which included botanical illustration. (Details in this paragraph drawn from the University of Virginia’s Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/herbs/brief-history/ ).
So, Printing press + Woodcut illustrations (later lithographs) = Beautiful botanical books of both scientific and aesthetic value.
For more details about the background of botanical illustration, check out these folks:
16th century, Leonhart Fuchs
17th century, Maria Sibylla Merian
18th century, Pierre-Joseph Redouté
19th century, Pieter de Pannemaeker (Ghent) and Emily Stackhouse (Cornwall)