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Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863)

June 12, 2018–October 14, 2018
Exhibition
At the American Folk Art Museum
Lincoln Square, Manhattan

Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863) explores the confluence of art, love, science, and religion in the extraordinary art of Orra White Hitchcock, one of America’s first female scientific illustrators. Her marriage in 1821 to Amherst College professor Edward Hitchcock cemented a years-long friendship and collaboration based on a bedrock of faith and science, mutual respect, close observation, and mental capacity for the largest of ideas. Orra White exhibited a prodigious scientific mind and abundant artistic talent at an early age. The exhibition traces her development from schoolgirl projects to highly accomplished renderings of the natural scenery of the Connecticut River Valley used in her husband’s many geology publications. Less well known are colorful paintings on cotton—some more than twelve feet long—that were used to illustrate her husband’s many college lectures on geology, botany, zoology, and anatomy. In these, Orra White Hitchcock communicated complex scientific principles in abstract visual terms that now appear gorgeously fresh and modern. Archival letters, manuscripts, diaries, and albums place Edward and Orra White Hitchcock in the very heart of international scientific inquiry. In the early years of the nineteenth century, when the natural world was a place of wonder, Edward Hitchcock, theologian and scientist, saw the interconnectedness of God’s created world, and Orra White Hitchcock made it manifest through her art for all to comprehend and marvel.

This exhibition recognizes Daria D’Arienzo and Robert L. Herbert for their pioneering work on Orra White and Edward Hitchcock.

Exhibition curator: Stacy C. Hollander, acting director and chief curator, American Folk Art Museum

Exhibition design: Michael Morris, Morris|Sato Studio

Installation photos by Olya Vysotskaya.

Image credits: 50. COAL STRATA; Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863); Amherst, Massachusetts; 1828–1840; pen and ink and watercolor wash on cotton, with woven tape binding; 13 1/4 x 32 5/8 in.; Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

30. Colossal Octopus [Pierre Denys de Montfort]; Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863); Amherst, Massachusetts; 1828–1840; pen and ink and watercolor wash on cotton; 27 7/8 x 21 in.; Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

44. MASTODON MAXIMUS. CUV. [Cuvier]; Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863); Amherst, Massachusetts; 1828–1840; pen and ink and watercolor wash on cotton, with woven tape binding; 25 1/2 x 37 in.; Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

Panax quinquefolium L. (American ginseng). Herbarium parvum, pictum; Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863); vicinity of Deerfield, Amherst, and Conway, Massachusetts; 1817–1821; watercolor, pencil, and pen and ink on paper, from unbound album; approx. 12 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. each; Deerfield Academy Archives.

Cypripedium pubenscens W. (Greater yellow lady’s slipper). Herbarium parvum, pictum; Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863); vicinity of Deerfield, Amherst, and Conway, Massachusetts; 1817–1821; watercolor, pencil, and pen and ink on paper, from unbound album; approx. 12 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. each; Deerfield Academy Archives.

37. ANTHRACITE IN GREYWACKE SLATE. NEWPORT, R.I.; Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863); Amherst, Massachusetts; 1828–1840; pen and ink and watercolor wash on cotton; 12 5/8 x 24 1/4 in.; Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

32. VALLIES.; Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863); Amherst, Massachusetts; 1828–1840; pen and ink and watercolor wash on cotton, with woven tape binding; 14 3/4 x 29 7/8 in.; Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

 

Exhibition-related Programs

Contemporary Alchemy: Women in Art + Science
Dialogue + Studio: Scientific Ink
Critical Walk-through: Ellen Gallagher on Evolutionary Possibilities
Families and Folk Art: PaleoAdventures!
Dialogue + Studio: Bioworlds Terrarium Workshop
Fungus Among Us: Urban Expedition with the New York Mycological Society
Exploring the Poetical Sciences: The Story of Edward and Orra White Hitchcock
Families and Folk Art: The Botanist’s Eye

Credits

This exhibition is supported in part by Joyce Berger Cowin, David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Just Folk: Marcy Carsey/Susan Baerwald, New York City Department for the Aging, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the Council for Traditional Folk Art.

Installation
Reviews
Mushrooms, Magma and Love in a Time of Science
– Jason Farago
This woman of science and art was a pioneer, and nearly forgotten
– Erin Blakemore
Art, Science and Religion Blend in Exhibition Honoring Illustrator Orra White Hitchcock
– Meilan Solly
The Story Of Orra White Hitchcock And The Women Whose Modesty Hides Their Talent
– Priscilla Frank