Louis charles christopher krieger (1873–1940)

Best known for his paintings of mushrooms, L. C. C. Krieger also created a large number of unique paintings of Opuntia, the prickly pear cactus, some of which appear in Britton and Rose’s landmark study of cacti, The Cactaceae.

Krieger showed a talent for art early in life, and at age 13 he began formal art studies. At 18, he took a position as illustrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it was there, working for the Division of Microscopy, that Krieger developed a lifelong passion for the study and painting of mushrooms. When the Division was disbanded four years later, he took the opportunity to travel abroad to study art in Munich.

After returning to Maryland, Krieger taught drawing and painting until he was offered a position as mycological illustrator for Professor William Farlow at Harvard University. He worked for the next ten years as one of the artists assisting in the production of Farlow’s Icones Farlowianae: Illustrations of the Larger Fungi of Eastern North America.

In 1912, Krieger returned to work at the USDA, this time in Chico, California, at the Plant Introduction Garden whose director, David Griffiths, was studying the forage potential of prickly pear cacti. Griffiths had traveled extensively by motorcycle in the southwestern United States and Mexico collecting specimens of the cactus and surveying populations. The result was a collection of over 6,000 specimens and an enormous photographic record of the cacti, their habitat and the practical ways in which they were being utilized.

In the early years of the 20th century color photography was not widely used, and Griffiths, like other botanists of the day, were dependent on traditional botanical painting to illustrate their work. As government resources were limited, Griffiths needed to avoid the time-consuming process involved in painting his vast collection of specimens, and he did this by developing a unique process that used both his glass plate negatives and watercolor painting. Griffiths made very light photographic prints that Krieger would then paint with watercolor. This efficient method produced results that greatly enhanced both the realism of the original photograph and the depth and form of the watercolor painting.

Griffiths’ glass plate negatives of the Opuntia were used in this way by both Krieger and other illustrators whose painted photographs can be found in The Cactaceae (which also contains traditional watercolor paintings of cacti, often showing both methods by different illustrators in a single plate).

Krieger left the USDA in 1917, once again to pursue his passion for painting fungi. For the next ten years, he and Dr. Howard A. Kelly, a Baltimore physician, worked to create a private mycological library. Soon after, he was appointed Mycologist to the New York State Museum and wrote a guide to the fungi of New York State

Krieger joined with Griffiths and the USDA again beginning in 1929, this time illustrating flowers of ornamental bulbs and diseases of plants. He died in Washington, D.C. in 1940.

Here is a selection of Krieger's works from The Cactaceae, "The Common Mushrooms of the United States", and from various USDA publications. Other works can be seen in our online exhibit, Botanical Art of the Sonoran Desert: Past and Present.