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Hunt exhibit showcases history of botanical literature, art

Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor Credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor

An exhibition of resources related to botany and history was held on the fifth floor of Hunt Library this past week, and will continue to be showcased until December. The exhibition featured rare pieces from the Hunt Collection, including some added by Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt. The exhibit is open to all students and visitors for free.

The entire fifth floor of Hunt Library — or the “Penthouse,” as McMasters Miller Hunt referred to it in one of the informational plaques — is used to showcase Hunt’s extensive collection of books on botany and botanists, as well as related archives and research, all of which comprise the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation. The exhibition opened Sept. 16 and will close Dec. 15, giving students and botany enthusiasts alike ample time to see artifacts ranging from hand-painted water colors of rare plants to some of the earliest examples of microscopic observation.

While perhaps not what the average college student would consider an exciting proposition, there is a surprisingly broad appeal from the exhibit. “The people who come tend to be interested in art, or science, or are ecology students,” said Charlotte Tancin, librarian and principal research scholar at the Hunt Institute. “People go to concerts and museums and galleries as cultural experiences and should approach this in the same spirit.”

The Hunt Institute has a wide range of resources for Carnegie Mellon students. It features one of the largest collections of Carl Linnaeus, who is known as a father of modern taxonomy; a copy of a Nehemiah Grew study of plants through a microscope; a one-of-a-kind planting calendar from the 1570s; an original woodblock used for illustrations; and an example first edition of one of the first books to be printed in the New World.

According to Tancin, it is unusual for so many rare pieces to be on display at once. “We’d love to have more visitors. Although more students are welcome, we do have closed stacks [for pieces not on display],” she said.

The wood-paneled rooms of the fifth floor provide a studious atmosphere for inspecting the rare works. Those interested in the histories of art, science, printmaking, and even landscape architecture all have reason to make use of the opportunity, although many students who find themselves there do so by mistake. “Students either don’t know we exist,” said Lugene Bruno, curator of art and senior research scholar for the institute, “or are too shy to come up here.”

Studying plants may not sound exciting to some, but the exhibit portrays Rachael Hunt embarking on adventures into South American rainforests and embroiling herself in pitched bidding wars for rare manuscripts. A prior appreciation for botany is not required to understand the exhibit.

Group tours of the exhibit are available by appointment.