Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mary Vaux Walcott

Wild flowers were a joy and inspiration in the happy days of childhood when I was taught to observe and sketch them under the direction of a skilled artist. Years passed before a botanical friend at Glacier, British Columbia, asked me to portray a rare and perishable alpine flower so as to preserve its beauty, color, and graceful outline as a living thing. During succeeding seasons I painted other rare specimens until many of the "living flowers that skirt the eternal frost" in the wildflower gardens of the Canadian Rockies were transferred in color and form to the East, where sketches of the native woodland and meadow blossoms soon began to join them.

During the past ten years (1915 - 1925) I have spent from three to four months each season in the Canadian Rockies, where Dr. Walcott was carrying on geological explorations, covering in all more than five thousand miles on the mountain trails. This afforded me a wonderful opportunity for intimate study of the flora, my aim being to collect and paint the finest specimens obtainable, and to depict the natural grace and beauty of the plant without conventional design. Many of the western sketches were made under trying conditions. Often, on a mountain side or high pass, a fire was necessary to warm stiffened fingers and body. In camp, the diffused light of the white tent was a great handicap, and considerable ingenuity was required to obtain a proper combination of light and shade. The paint box and pads found safe conveyance on the back of the saddle, except in unusual storms of rain or show, and many times while waiting for the pack train to be made ready, a sketch was begun or completed. The short lives of the blooming plants definitely limit the number of sketches that can be made during a single field season, for many hours of work are necessary to finish a single sketch, and wild flowers wither quickly. A sharp frost in July or early August will ruin them, or an unusually warm dry season or a cold, wet one will prevent flowering or kill the blossoms that have matured. For these reasons desirable specimens of many of the fragile alpine flowers are difficult to secure, and in some instances were seen in perfection but two or three times during the many seasons on the trail. The limited habitat of others made it necessary to take long rides and climb high above the timber line to procure them, and frequently no trails were available. Our sure-footed mountain ponies were a large factor in our success.

Both the bloom and the fruit of a few trees have been sketched with the hope that these exquisite forms may be more observed and appreciated by nature lovers. The illustrations of eastern plants have been made from specimens collected as opportunity offered and from those contributed by many friends. All the sketches are life size.

As time went on and the collection grew, botanists, artists, and others interested in flowers began to urge that the water-color sketches should be permanently preserved and made available for students and lovers of the beautiful in Nature, before the dust of time faded and browned them to the hues of the pressed flowers of the herbaria. A survey of wild flower publications led to the decision that there was need for a finely illustrated work that would be of service pictorially to all professional and amateur botanist and designers, and to the larger group of lovers of wild flowers and the great out-of-doors. To many of these the living flowers are inaccessible, and their real beauty is unknown. No attempt has been made to create a text book with technical descriptions, or to illustrate all native American wild flowers, and only native plants have been included.

The preparation of the work has been a labor of love and has been made possible by the sympathetic interest and inspiration of Dr. Walcott, who has been unfailing in his help and encouragement.

My sincere thanks are due to Dr. Frederick V. Coville, Dr. Edgar T. Wherry, Mr. Paul C. Standley, and Dr. Paul Bartsch, who have all given freely of their time and knowledge. Washington, 1925
Signed by the Artist


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