In Fall of 2015, I was invited by the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa to create a book art related work based on an early Scientific book that would be chosen for me. To research this project, I had the pleasure of paging through two copies of Theatrum Botanicum, one at UNC’s Wilson Library Rare Books Room and the second at Duke’s Rubenstein Library, in Chapel Hill and Durham respectively, close to where I live in North Carolina. For the exhibit, Micrographia, I created two handmade paper pages, based on botanical collection (see a separate post for images of the final works and the exhibit).
Theatrum Botanicum, written by John Parkinson in 1640, was also known as An Herball of Large Extent, which describes it very aptly. Containing descriptions of approximately 3800 plants, it is illustrated with concise woodcuts and expansive descriptions of each plant. After two full days of turning pages, reading, photographing and examining illustrations and watermarks, I had so much left to explore.
The author John Parkinson, describes the book in the title page:
Theatrum botanicum: The theater of plants. Or, An herball of a large extent: containing therein a more ample and exact history and declaration of the physicall herbs and plants that are in other authours, encreased by the accesse of many hundreds of new, rare, and strange plants from all the parts of the published by any before; and a most large demonstration of their natures and vertues.
What struck me in reading through the descriptions of these plants was a sense of intimacy and reverence for the plant world that I don’t often find in contemporary culture and certainly not in the botanical books and field guides that I make use of to identify plants and learn more about them. Mr. Parkinson will describe the “vertues” of a particular plant for several pages; explaining ways the plant can be used medicinally, to cure an ailment or affect mood or well-being of an individual.
Spending time researching Theatrum Botanicum was a tactile experience; turning the actual pages, handling the paper, and looking closely at the illustrations and text. I’m so glad this project prompted me to visit my local Rare Books Rooms. It is a visit I’d highly recommend to others interested in book arts and paper. I look forward to my next visit!
In the next post, I’ll have images of the artworks I created for the Micrographia exhibit.