by Susan Jackson, posted by Deb Shaw

A new exhibit has just opened at the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park that botanical artists would find quite interesting. It is located in the Eleanor and Jerome Navarra Special Collections Gallery on the third floor of the museum. It is a permanent exhibition called Extraordinary Ideas from Ordinary People: A History of Citizen Science which features rare books, art, photographs, maps and historical documents that pay homage to the past, present, and future of citizen science.

The upper mezzanine features an exhibit that a botanical artist will not want to miss. On display are nine “Plant Portraits” by the early twentieth century painter, A. R. Valentien. He was commissioned by the philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps to paint California wildflowers. Over a period of ten years, Valentien traveled around California creating exquisite watercolor and gouache scientific illustrations. Part of the collection of 1,094 paintings, all done on 13x 20 paper, will be rotated in this gallery. A book which includes photographs of all the paintings can be found in the gift shop, however, it is no substitute for seeing the real thing. Bring your magnifying glass.

The gallery also has original catalogs from Pierre-Joseph Redoute, William Curtis, Auguste Johann Rosel von Rosenhoff, and John James Audubon. These are huge volumes printed in black ink and then hand colored. They are a reminder of a time before photography when beautiful books were only available to the very wealthy. Although we frequently see prints that originated from these catalogs, there is something very special in actually seeing the originals.

More information about the exhibit and the San Diego Natural History Museum may be found on their website. There is also a short video about the Valentien Collection, which can be seen by clicking on the arrow located on the close up view of the Mariposa Lily. If you decide to visit, plan on spending several hours, because there are lots of other things to see as well.

The San Diego Museum of Natural History is located at 1788 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101. The Museum is open daily 10 AM to 5 PM, and until 8 PM on most Fridays this summer. Visit the website for ticket prices and specific daily hours; the Museum may close early on some days.

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