Illustrations preservation project
at the university of arizona herbarium

PROJECT OVERVIEW.  In 2008 the Sonoran Desert Florilegium Program began a preservation project for the botanical art held by the Herbarium at the University of Arizona. Included in the collection are illustrations that have been part of several noteworthy publications about plants of the southwest. Of particular note are the illustrations prepared for Howard Scott Gentry's Agaves of Continental North America.

Some of the well-known illustrators whose work is held in the collection are Lucretia Breazeale Hamilton, Regina O. Hughes, and Wendy Hodgson. The Florilegium Program recognized the need to preserve these drawings that are so important to botanical history of the Sonoran Desert Region.

ACCESSIONING.  Because no inventory of the drawings existed in the Herbarium's collection, the project’s first priority was to create a catalogue.

Florilegium volunteers Kay Marietta, Joan McGann, Margaret Pope, Nancy Reid, and Connie Engard began the lengthy process of accessioning the illustrations. Accessioning (cataloguing) illustrations into the Herbarium collection required establishing a numbering system, assigning a number to each illustration, and noting identifying information for each illustration, such as the artist's name, the botanical subject of the drawing, and the medium.

An explanation of the accessioning process is here.

When the volunteers began their work, the total number of illustrations was estimated to be over 850, but when they completed their cataloguing, the final count was 1,356!

FUNDRAISING.  In 2009 the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society (TCSS) and a TCSS member presented a fundraising challenge of a dollar for dollar matching gift of $3,500 to the Sonoran Desert Florilegium Program in support of archiving the illustrations in the Herbarium collection.

The volunteers' inventory, which had begun in 2008, was nearing completion, and the physical preservation of the drawings was the next step. Each illustration needed to be mounted and enclosed in archival material and stored in archival boxes. The cost to archive one illustration ranged from $7 to $10. The original estimate for the number of drawings was 850, so the fundraising goal for the preservation phase of the project was set at $6,000. The response from TCSS members and other donors was enthusiastic.

Once the completed accessioning found the total number of illustrations to be over 1300, the fundraising goal for the purchase of archival quality materials was increased. In the end, TCSS and the Florilegium Program successfully raised over $13,000 to preserve these important illustrations.

ARCHIVAL STORAGE.  The next phase of the project was to improve the storage conditions for the artwork to ensure their preservation.

The illustrations had been stored for many years in non-archival conditions, and chemicals from cardboard boxes, file folders, and other non-archival papers can cause the deterioration of the drawings. Florilegium volunteer James Thomas mounted and enclosed each illustration in archival material and then placed the illustrations in archival boxes.

In 2010 the Herbarium received a grant to upgrade their storage capacity for plant specimens. The Herbarium staff supported the Florilegium's preservation project by assigning and customizing two of their new cabinets specifically for the illustrations.

DIGITAL ARCHIVE.  Volunteers are currently working to complete the final phase of the project, which is to digitally scan all of the illustrations. This digital archive will allow the collection to be viewed without physical handling of the drawings.

Now that these important historical illustrations have been archived and catalogued, further physical deterioration has been prevented, and they are readily accessible for use by students, faculty, researchers, and artists.

UPDATES. In 2012, Florilegium volunteers began the process of accessioning and archiving a collection of 533 botanical watercolor illustrations by Ella Howard Estill. These paintings are not considered scientific illustrations, but because they have historical value and are accurate representations of the plants, the Florilegium Program Steering Committee and Herbarium staff have decided to include the paintings in the Herbarium's illustration collection.

The Herbarium at the University of Arizona received a donation in 2013 of the original Lucretia Hamilton drawings from Lyman Benson's The Cacti of the United States and Canada. These illustrations, which are a significant addition to the Herbarium's collection of botanical illustrations, were donated by Edward Hamilton, Lucretia’s son, who wanted to have them preserved under archival conditions. The donation includes 119 plates of Hamilton’s drawings and 17 plates by Lyman Benson. Florilegium volunteers have completed the process of transferring the Hamilton and Benson illustrations to archival mounting boards and are working to accession the new illustrations into the Herbarium's collection that now consists of 2,125 works of botanical art.

The Herbarium staff is very enthusiastic about and appreciative of the work the Florilegium Program has done in accessioning and archiving the illustrations. They were supportive and very helpful in facilitating the 2009 exhibit Gentry's Agaves, illustrations from Gentry’s Agaves of Continental North America, and the 2013 exhibit Botanical Art of the Sonoran Desert: Past and Present. They are looking forward to future exhibits of other illustrations from the Herbarium's collection.

Through this project, the Florilegium volunteers and donors, in cooperation with the Herbarium staff, have made an invaluable contribution to preserving the botanical heritage of our region.