Rare watercolors from one of Georgia’s earliest naturalists will be exhibited beginning in April at the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries as part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the James W. Woodruff, Sr. Center for the Natural History of Georgia.
Of the thousands of drawings Abbot made, fewer than 200 of his butterfly and moth illustrations and none of his bird drawings were published, according to curator Beth Fowkes Tobin, UGA professor of English and Women’s Studies. Abbot’s original watercolor drawings of insects and birds along with the engravings of Abbot’s drawings that were published in 1797 in The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia are included. “This book was praised as one of ‘most beautiful and valuable’ natural history publications of his era,” Tobin said.
In addition to selections from the Hargrett Rare Book and Mansucript Library collections, Emory University, the University of South Carolina and the Morris Museum have loaned drawings for the exhibit.
John Abbot (1751-1840), an Englishman, arrived in Georgia in 1776, planning to stay only a few years. Abbot hoped to use his time in Georgia to jump-start a career as a natural history illustrator, supporting himself by collecting insect and bird specimens for London’s natural history collectors and dealers. Abbot intended to return to London after he had made enough drawings to establish his career. But Abbot never left the South, living the rest of his long life in rural Georgia, where he continued to collect and draw insects and birds into his 80s, producing more than 7,000 watercolor drawings.
“One factor in his decision to remain in Georgia was what he called his ‘peculiar liking for insects.’ His love of insects took Abbot off the usual path followed by natural history illustrators, who lived and worked in urban centers of natural history inquiry, places such as London and Philadelphia, where they oversaw the publication of their artwork,” Tobin said.
A series of public programs accompanies the exhibition; the kick-off events in April will all be held in the Russell Special Collections Libraries:
April 22, 6 p.m.: Exploring the Edge: Scientific Illustration and Natural History Collections in Contemporary Art Artist-scientist Nancy Lowe will explore contemporary artists who use scientific illustration and/or natural history collections in artworks. Featured artists will include Walton Ford, George Boorujy, Brandon Ballengée, Rosamond Purcell, and Suzanne Acker.
April 23, 10 a.m.: Scientific illustration in black and white media with Nancy Lowe In this workshop, participants will learn scientific illustration techniques in graphite and pen.
April 23, 2 p.m.: Scientific illustration in watercolor with Nancy Lowe In this workshop, participants will learn watercolor techniques specific to scientific illustration.
April 28, 5:30 p.m.: The Virtual Roach Project Joseph McHugh will discuss the Virtual Roach Project, a web resource focused on insect anatomy that was developed as a technical reference and an instructional tool. The project links morphological terminology with an extensive image archive, including scientific illustrations, scanning electron micrographs, and photomicrographs. Users are able to explore the anatomy of a cockroach through a virtual dissection.
The Woodruff Center for the Natural History of Georgia collects and preserves for scholarly research historical resources that reflect and document the natural history of the State of Georgia. The Center includes the James W. Woodruff, Sr. Natural History of the Chattahoochee Valley Collection.