The World in a Garden: Botanical Books & Prints

An exhibition honoring the retirement of C. John Burk, professor of botany & biology, is on view through July 15.

Illustration by William Sharp from Victoria regia; or the Great Waterlily of America (Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1854). The text is full of interesting anecdotes about the water lily (for instance, the leaves are so strong that Amazon natives often placed their small children on them while the adults gathered food), but the book’s primary attraction lies in its spectacular chromolithographic illustrations. John Fisk Allen’s private garden in Salem, Massachusetts, where he successfully germinated a water lily seed in 1853, was a great inspiration for this work.

April 2-July 15, 2007
Book Arts Gallery & Mortimer Rare Book Room 
(Neilson Library, 3rd floor)

This exhibition features many notable books in the history of botany including: an herbal in Latin, printed in Germany in 1484; many 16th-century herbals; books by Linnaeus, considered the father of modern botany; and 19th-century volumes on the language of flowers. Modern botanical drawings and watercolors are also featured.

The Mortimer Rare Book Room’s exhibition of herbals complements “The World in a Garden” on display in the Lyman Plant House. The Plant House display features illustrations from many of the herbals on view in Neilson Library.

Under the direction of curator of rare books Martin Antonetti, the books were selected and the exhibition was written last year as a special studies by Samantha Leland and Anne Halsey, both of the class of 2006. This spring the exhibition was augmented by Lois Jenkins, class of 2009, who also assisted Mortimer Rare Book Room book arts specialist Barbara Blumenthal with installation of the exhibition.

Most of the books in this exhibition are part of what is known as the Thornton Collection. Edith Thornton (Cabot), 1886-1996, graduated from Smith College in 1910. William Ganong was one of her favorite professors. Ganong taught botany and was director of the botanic gardens from 1894-1932. When she graduated in 1910, Thornton donated $1,000 to the biology department to acquire a collection of botanical and scientific books. During her lifetime she continued to support the Thornton Collection through gifts.

In February 1948 an article about the Thornton Collection appeared in the Smith Alumnae Quarterly. Helen A. Choate, Smith College class of 1904 and Associate Professor Emeritus of Botany, described the collection as containing approximately 200 volumes, including many of the major publications in the development of the science of botany. The Thornton Collection remained under the purview of the biology/botany department until 1960 when a large part of the collection was transferred to the rare book collection in Neilson Library, now the Mortimer Rare Book Room.


Mortimer Rare Book Room
Neilson Library
(413) 585-2906