From the Vault: Memories of Colorado in Painted Wildflowers
The permanent art collection at Denver Botanic Gardens contains wonderful artworks including botanical art and illustration, landscapes, natural history illustration and Gardens-related material. As a collections assistant, I have had the privilege to get to know the artwork and artists represented in the collection while rehousing the art collection in the new art storage space in the Freyer – Newman Center. As a Colorado native, I have loved learning about botanical artist Emma Armstrong Ervin and studying her artwork that is intimately tied to the natural landscape of Colorado.
Denver Botanic Gardens, Photograph of Emma A. Ervin from “Emma Armstrong Ervin” by Katherine Crisp in The Green Thumb, Vol. 28, Autumn 1971, photograph. © Denver Botanic Gardens 1971.
Emma Armstrong Ervin (1874-1957) was born in Georgetown, Ohio, and moved to Colorado in 1895. Ervin and her husband, Frank, owned a cabin in Estes Park and accompanying property south of Longs Peak. Ervin spent summers in Estes Park painting locally sourced plants. In 1914 Ervin began producing the watercolors of Colorado wildflowers for which she is known. Denver Botanic Gardens has an extensive collection of Ervin's watercolors in its permanent collection.
Ervin’s watercolor paintings of Colorado wildflowers are expertly painted, yet have a personal and unique feel, as if they were taken from the artist’s sketchbook. Some of Ervin’s watercolors are finished, while others feature unpainted graphite drawings. The artist’s hand is visible in the remnants of artistic process, as is the artist’s experience of the natural world she paints. In the inscriptions handwritten in pencil on the watercolors, Emma Armstrong Ervin ties her artworks to a personally significant time and place. Occasionally the wildflowers are accompanied by their scientific or common name, but Ervin almost always assigns a Colorado location to her watercolor paintings.
Emma Armstrong Ervin, Meadow at Longs Peak, May 28, ca. 1914, watercolor and graphite on paper. Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, CO.
A watercolor painting of a Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata), a beautiful wildflower with a red stem, green leaves, and small pale pink flowers, is labeled “Meadow at Longs Peak, May 28.” Ervin participates in the time-honored tradition of botanical illustration in the way she communicates the important characteristics of the wildflower in four drawings, everything from seed pods to root system. It is the personal annotations that invite viewers to imagine the experience of the Colorado setting that led to the creation of each artwork. One can almost imagine Ervin in a lush meadow on her Longs Peak property carefully observing this wildflower and color matching her paints to recreate each small detail.
Additional watercolor paintings by Ervin are labeled with Colorado locations like Berthoud Pass, Allens Park, and Mount Vernon Canyon. Viewers may find that like me, these charming watercolor paintings of Colorado wildflowers inspire them to get outside and experience the natural beauty of Colorado for themselves, keeping an attentive eye out for wildflowers.
Emma Armstrong Ervin, Berthoud Pass, August 13, ca. 1914, watercolor and graphite on paper. Depicting Erigerons. Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, CO.
Emma Armstrong Ervin, Allens Park, ca. 1914, watercolor and graphite on paper. Depicting Arnica cordifolia and Bistort bistortoides. Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, CO.
Emma Armstrong Ervin, Mt Vernon Canyon, May 17, ca. 1914, watercolor and graphite on paper. Depicting Astragalus agrestis. Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, CO.
Research inquiries about Denver Botanic Gardens’ permanent art collection can be directed to the Exhibitions Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post was written by Megan Adams, Graduate Student Collections Assistant, Art Collections. Position funded by IMLS Grant Award No. MA-30-18-0410-18.
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