The artistic legacy of
arthur carl victor schott

The exploration and documentation of the American West by the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers depended heavily on the talents of civilians, many of whom were highly trained emigrants from Europe. Among these men was Arthur Carl Victor Schott, a Prussian who came to America at age 36 and who proved to be unique in both his abilities and dedication.

Schott received an extensive education in Germany, was apprenticed at the Royal Gardens in Stuttgart, and attended the Institute of Agriculture at the University of Hohenheim. After arriving in America in 1850, he met the renowned botanist John Torrey and was soon employed to illustrate Torrey’s botanical report for Capt. Howard Stansbury's survey expedition to the Great Salt Lake. It was Torrey who recommended Schott for appointment to United States–Mexican boundary survey expedition.

Schott was hired as a surveyor but also served as topographical artist. One of his duties was to sketch scenic views of the landscape along the border that, in conjunction with maps, were to mark the position of the boundary. There are 64 topographic views in the report, 32 each by Schott and John Weyss, and the difference between the two men’s work is striking. Because of Schott’s background in botany, his depictions of the boundary lands are teeming with native plant life, while those by Weyss are far more spartan.

Schott’s primary responsibilities were surveying and topographical drawing, but he had much wider interests and took on additional duties. Schott had collected plants in Germany for his personal herbarium, and during the boundary survey he joined several other naturalists in collecting specimens to send to George Engelmann and John Torrey who were preparing the botanical classifications for the final report. He collected specimens and made contributions to the zoology report, including notes from his personal observations of the animals and, unique to Schott's reports, listings of the names of each animal in English, Spanish and Indian languages. Additionally, he made portraits of Native Americans for the ethnological report and collected fossils for the geological report.

In 1855, with the field work of the boundary commission complete, Schott joined the boundary survey office in Washington, D.C., to produce the final report. His work included illustrating, collating report information, supervising progress on Torrey's botanical report and the various engravings, and proofing maps. He left the boundary office six years later, having been one of the most industrious and competent of all the civilians hired to work on the boundary survey.

Schott remained in Washington, except for an occasional excursion. He worked with a survey for a possible trans-oceanic canal across the Isthmus of Darien, collected botanical and zoological specimens in the Yucatan, and continued his botanical studies of the native plants around Washington. He died in 1875 and was survived by a wife, six children, and a significant artistic and scientific legacy.

The first illustration shown here (top) is Lucretia Hamilton's pen and ink rendering of Agave schottii. The plant was named by Dr. George Engelmann in honor of his friend and colleague Arthur Schott and was first described by Engelmann in The Transactions of the Academy of Science of St. Louis, Vol. III, 1878 :

“Sierra del Pajarito in Southern Arizona; fl. August; collected only by the late Dr. Arthur Schott, 1855, to whose memory I have dedicated this species in consideration of long years of friendship and of the valuable services to science rendered by him in many arduous exploring expeditions in the arid southwestern wilds, as well as in the primeval tropical forests of the isthmus and on the plains of Yucatan.”

The other illustrations here exemplify the breadth of Schott’s talents. His botanical illustrations for the Great Salt Lake survey report are well-executed and have a gracefulness not always seen in botanical illustrations of the time. His topographical sketches for the U.S.–Mexican Boundary Report(below) include a wonderful diversity of readily identifiable native plants and have a unique style that enlivens a section of the report that was intended only to serve the practical purpose of marking the boundary. In correspondence to Engelmann, who was classifying cacti specimens for the boundary survey report, Schott wrote:

“I am charged by Maj. Emory with the finishing of some 36-40 sketches of landscapes to illustrate the topography of the Boundary line. In these plates I shall take occasion to make the foregrounds lifelike by introducing all those indigenous plants which appear most striking in the survey of the country. You will easily understand what a prominent part the Cacti will take in those sketches. By frequent repetitions I will try to give the features and characteristics of almost every one through the various phases of their growth.” — Cindy Hartwell

topographical sketch U.S.-Mexican border by Arthur Schott
View from Monument N° XVII, on the Cerro de Sonora
Looking West Towards Monument N° XV
on the Sierra del Pozo Verde
topographical sketch U.S.-Mexican border by Arthur Schott
View from Monument N° XVII
Looking East Towards Monument N° XVIII

topographical sketch U.S.-Mexican border by Arthur Schott
View from Monument N° VI, on the 'Cuchilla de las Choyas'
Looking East Towards Monument N° IX
topographical sketch U.S.-Mexican border by Arthur Schott
View from Monument N° VI,
Looking West Towards Monument N° V

Topographical drawings by Arthur Schott for the U.S.–Mexican Boundary Survey

This appeared in the August 2015 issue of The Desert Breeze, the monthly newsletter of the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society.