Lucretia breazeale hamilton (1908–1986)

Known internationally for her botanical illustrations of the plants of the American Southwest, Arizona artist Lucretia Hamilton created an immense body of intricate pen-and-ink drawings depicting the Sonoran Desert Region’s iconic cacti and wildflowers as well as its lesser-known grasses and rangeland weeds.

Hamilton’s family moved from Virginia to Sacaton, Arizona in 1920. Two years later, they moved to Tucson, where she was to live for most of her life. In 1932, Hamilton completed a B.S. in botany with a minor in art at the University of Arizona. Her career as a botanical illustrator began there when her professors took note of her precisely detailed laboratory illustrations. They began asking her to illustrate their journal articles and their books.

To achieve the level of detail that she wanted in her drawing, Hamilton preferred to work from living plant material instead of dried herbarium specimens. Unlike many illustrators, Hamilton was not reluctant to tackle a complex and well-armed cactus specimen, and she became renowned for her meticulous and beautiful renderings of cacti.

Over her career, Hamilton’s illustrations appeared in numerous technical bulletins and in 15 books, including Trees and Shrubs of the Southwestern Deserts, Grasses of the Southwestern United States, An Illustrated Guide to Arizona Weeds, Plants That Poison (which she co-authored with Dr. Ervin Schmutz), and Lyman Benson’s monumental work, The Cacti of the United States and Canada. In 1973, two of her cacti drawings, Opuntia microdasys and Echinocactus horizonthalonius, were exhibited at the Hunt Institute's International Exhibition of Botanical Art and Illustration.

Hamilton was one of the founding members of the Arizona Native Plant Society, and she remained active in the organization until her death in 1986. In recognition of her contribution to Arizona’s botanical and artistic heritage, in 1998 a new desert willow cultivar was named in her honor, Chilopsis linearis ‘Lucretia Hamilton’. In 2006, she was inducted into the Arizona State Women’s Hall of Fame.

Several of Hamilton's pen and ink drawings archived at the University of Arizona Herbarium can be seen in this gallery.