LSU Libraries Special Collections presents “Louisiana’s Natural Treasure: Margaret Stones, Botanical Artist,” on exhibition at Hill Memorial Library from February 10 – June 27, 2020. Selected works from the Native Flora of Louisiana watercolor drawings, as well as archival materials associated with the project, will be on display.
A native of Australia, Margaret Stones (1920-2018) achieved an acclaimed international career that spanned three continents. Stones’s art has been featured in an impressive array of exhibitions and been recognized with distinguished awards and honors. Of the three major multiyear endeavors undertaken by Stones during her long professional career, the final one – the native flora of Louisiana – resulted in one of the most remarkable collections of botanical art created for a U.S. state. Commissioned by LSU and funded by private donations, more than two hundred watercolor drawings of Louisiana plants produced by Stones during the 1970s and 1980s are among the most treasured holdings of LSU Libraries Special Collections.
The Native Flora of Louisiana project was grounded in a long historical tradition of botanical illustration. Stones only worked from live specimens, requiring the collection of the plant through all of its stages and seasons to include flower, fruit, and seed. Many intrepid collectors navigated swamp and forest to secure representative species, their endeavors documented by the artist on the finished drawings. The completed body of work serves as a catalog of over 200 native and endemic species of Louisiana flora that is of great interest to botanists specifically and scientists generally, especially in light of efforts to restore our coastal wetlands and protect endangered plants. Just as past works of natural history instilled pride in their audiences for the abundance and beauty of flora within their nation’s realm of influence, these exquisite watercolor drawings continue to be a source of pride for Louisianans.
Asked about the importance of balance between art and science in her work, Margaret Stones once replied that focusing too much on the artistic aspect could result in something “silly,” while devoting one’s attention solely to scientific accuracy could be “deadly.” Following established conventions of botanical illustration, Stones brought her subjects to life with a deft brush and an eye for detail, creating drawings that are both aesthetically pleasing and botanically correct.
The Louisiana project forged a special relationship not only between Margaret Stones and Louisiana State University but with numerous Louisiana residents as well. Funded entirely by private donations, the over two hundred watercolor drawings by Stones known as the Native Flora of Louisiana Collection are held in LSU Libraries Special Collections as a treasured legacy for the entire state. All of the works have been made available online in the Louisiana Digital Library. In the centennial year of her birth, we celebrate the story of Margaret Stones and the Flora of Louisiana both in tribute to her legacy, and with the hope of introducing her work to new audiences.
As was the case with John James Audubon in the 19th century, Stones was inspired by the natural beauty of Louisiana to produce some of her best work. She often described her time in Louisiana as the happiest years of her life. Enchanted by the landscape, the food, and the culture, Stones was even more captivated by the people she came to know. On many occasions, she affectionately referred to the state as “MY Louisiana.” It is with great pride and admiration that we reciprocate, claiming her as “Louisiana’s Natural Treasure.”
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