Pillbox

Exhibition premieres in Hunt

The exhibit contrasts between related pieces, allowing viewers a deeper insight into the subjects. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/) The exhibit contrasts between related pieces, allowing viewers a deeper insight into the subjects. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/) The _Duets_ exhibition on the fifth floor of Hunt features artwork themed around plants. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/) The _Duets_ exhibition on the fifth floor of Hunt features artwork themed around plants. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/)

Did you know that there’s a level of Hunt library beyond the fourth floor — a world of wonder, accessible only by elevator? No, it’s not the room made out of candy in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory; it’s the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.

A valued resource for the study of North American flora, the institute boasts an impressive collection of environmental art that it showcases in two exhibitions every year. This year’s spring exhibition, Duets, opened last Thursday and couples botanical art with items created between the 16th and 21st centuries.

According to assistant curator of art Carrie Roy, Duets attempts to “explore the history of botanical art through harmonious pairings.” The exhibition is organized into displays of two works of botanical art next to each other. Often, the pairs of art are of the same subject, but are different in regard to style, technique, or methods.

There is a wide variety of artwork, from pencil sketches and watercolors to different forms of photography, and this diversity keeps the gallery interesting. Albert G. Richards’s black-and-white radiograph (X-ray photograph), for example, reveals the inner architecture of a rose in full bloom and allows one to marvel at the complex nature of such a seemingly simple organism.

Beside each pairing is a description explaining why the two pieces were put together, and it is in these descriptions where the real meat and potatoes of Duets lies. Some are contrasts, others comparisons.

The subjects of the artwork range from beautiful, exotic flowers found only in the Amazon or other remote lands, to the average, everyday onion. Indeed, the pieces’ artists range as well from novices to masters. The pairing of the finely educated Raphael Henri-Charles Ghislain’s stunning watercolor of a Ranunculaceae plant with the untrained James Bolton’s soft, almost surreal watercolor of the same plant demonstrates the passion found in botanical art. Both of these men were driven by “a love of the natural world that propelled them both to hone their observational skills,” one for professional development and the other for simple pleasure.

According to Roy, Duets continues the Hunt Institute’s long history of trying to “showcase environmentally important issues.” She continued that the exhibition gives “digestible little bits of what we’re about and why this art is important.” Duets certainly provides an appreciation for the field of botanical art, and many of the pieces are truly stunning and perfect for a quick study break while in Hunt Library. Duets will be on display through June 30 on the fifth floor of the library.