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Science as Art: The Beauty of Botanical Illustration

Weekend Program

Sunday, February 12, 2017 - 2:00 p.m.
Code: 1A0008
Botanical illustration by Alice Tangerini (Smithsonian Libraries)

The tradition of botanical illustration, which can be traced back to the 1st century B.C., fuses art and science to create a unique distillation of natural beauty. One of its leading contemporary practitioners is Alice Tangerini, a scientific illustrator in the botany department of the Natural History Museum. In collaboration with Smithsonian Libraries’ Biodiversity Heritage Library, she presents an afternoon that focuses on the art and the history of botanical illustration—and also offers a chance to feel like a botanical illustrator yourself.

Since joining the Smithsonian in 1972, Tangerini has illustrated more than 1,000 species of plants, primarily in pen and brush with ink. Her illustrations have appeared in many scientific periodicals, a dozen or more floras, and several books. During the afternoon, she traces how she creates an illustration by reconstruction from a dried herbarium specimen to a finished ink drawing ready for publication. Tangerini displays her special tools and drawing surfaces and explains how a microscope helps her uncover details that contribute to the lifelike appearance of her plant subjects. She also discusses how the combination of digital and traditional media offers new directions for botanical illustrators.

Tangerini is joined by Grace Costantino of Smithsonian Libraries’ Biodiversity Heritage Library, who discusses how the technical evolution of the art of printing—woodcuts, copper-plate engraving, lithography, chromatography—is showcased in the library’s collection of natural history art.

Afterward, there’s an opportunity to color prints from the collection as part of the second annual Color Our Collections program in which libraries and cultural institutions across the country offer coloring sheets made from items in their holdings.

Please note: A $20 student rate is available by calling 202-633-3030 during our standard business hours.

Smithsonian Connections

View illustrations by Alice Tangerini created for the Smithsonian’s Catalog of Botanical Illustrations.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library’s collections include works by naturalist and illustrator Mary Vaux Walcott, who married Smithsonian Secretary Charles Dolittle Walcott in 1914. She often accompanied her husband, a paleontologist and geologist, on trips to the American and Canadian West, producing illustrations of the native flowers as they traveled. Learn more about their outdoor life and see her work in a blog post from Smithsonian Libraries.


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