The National Tropical Botanical Garden will open a special art exhibition in its Botanical Research Center Saturday, allowing attendants to wander into a world unknown to Western societies almost 250 years ago.
“Plants of the Society Islands” will offer a rare chance to see 24 exemplary 18th century prints depicting plants of this French Polynesian archipelago, with artwork done during one of Capt. James Cook’s famous voyages through the South Pacific.
“This is a rare opportunity to see artwork from James Cook’s first voyage around the world over 200 years ago,” said Tim Flynn, NTBG’s Herbarium Collections Manager and one of the curators of the exhibition.
This public exhibition at NTBG’s headquarters campus in Kalaheo kicks off March 21 with the first of three Saturday offerings; subsequent Saturday dates are April 11 and May 16. The exhibition will be open most weekdays starting Monday, March 23, and continuing through Friday, May 22. Viewing times are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The prints are part of a larger collection known as Banks’ Florilegium, which is based on tropical plants collected during the 1768-1771 voyage of the HMS Endeavour, under the leadership of Capt. Cook.
Part of the expedition brought the ship’s crew to Tahiti in the Society Islands where they hoped to map the 1769 transit of Venus. On board was Sir Joseph Banks, an English naturalist, botanist and patron of the natural sciences.
In the Society Islands and other expedition stops, Banks collected a remarkable number of plants, which he brought onto the ship for botanical illustrator and natural history artist Sydney Parkinson to draw.
Made from copperplate engravings, these legendary prints are one of only one hundred complete sets ever made for sale when the engravings were retrieved from storage at the British Museum well over 200 years after Cook’s voyage.
Characterized as “the marriage of art and science,” the works have been praised for their fine workmanship, technical details and simple beauty. The prints open a window to the past, giving viewers a direct glimpse of the natural world that 18th century European explorers encountered in islands of the South Pacific.
The Juliet Rice Wichman Botanical Research Center holds NTBG’s extensive research library and more than 72,000 dried plant specimens. In addition to the prints, visitors will have the opportunity to browse among the stacks and see plant specimens that may no longer exist in the wild.
NTBG recommends visiting the exhibition webpage at ntbg.org/art and calling 332-7324, ext. 227 for additional viewing information.
Additionally, works by students participating in NTBG’s 2015 botanical illustration workshop will be available for viewing. Artist/instructor Wendy Hollender says her students, who range from beginners to advanced, bring the centuries-old tradition to life.
“The drawings my students are showing prove that botanical illustration is very much alive and well today,” Hollender said.
National Tropical Botanical Garden (www.ntbg.org) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental institution with nearly 2,000 acres of gardens and preserves in Hawai‘i and Florida. The institution’s mission is to enrich life through discovery, scientific research, conservation, and education by perpetuating the survival of plants, ecosystems, and cultural knowledge of tropical regions. NTBG is supported primarily through donations and grants.