Dangerous Beauty: Thorns, Spines and Prickles

Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

 

This exhibition, which runs from 18 September to 18 December 2014, includes artworks and books that depict the formidable and yet beautiful defensive structures of thorns, spines and prickles that have evolved to protect plants from predation. Featured are drawings, watercolors, prints and books displaying thistles, teasels, cacti, roses, berry brambles, stinging nettles and citrus trees.

How many times have you cursed the hidden dagger in your bouquet of roses, delicately reached through the treacherous bramble to pick the perfect raspberry or marveled at the scale of the monstrous needles covering a tiny cactus? These structures are the first line of defense many plants have against hungry herbivorous predators, but their intriguing characteristics are often overlooked. In this exhibition we take a closer look at the beauty of these frightful weapons and the artworks that reveal them.

The first step in appreciating these defensive structures is an understanding of what they are and how they differ from each other. In the most basic sense, thorns, spines and prickles can all refer to the sharp, stiff, woody defensive appendages found on some plants. Thorns are modified stems, as in Citrus Linnaeus. Spines are modified leaves, as in Echinocactus Link & Otto. Prickles differ in that they emerge from the epidermis, mesophyll or cortex of the plant, as in Rosa Linnaeus. Examples of these structures will be depicted in a variety of ways, from detailed scientific illustrations to loose interpretations, but all showing how beautiful these structures can be.

Artists represented are Marie Angel (England, 1923–2010); Diana Carmichael (United Kingdom/South Africa, 1926–2010); Louis Claude de Chastillon (France, 1639–1734); Celia Crampton (Africa/England); Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden (United States, 1907–2007); Raymond Dowden (United States, 1905–1982); Georg Dionys Ehret (Germany/England, 1708–1770); Henry Evans (United States, 1918–1990); Alejandro Gavriloff (Estonia/Argentina, 1914–1993); Lucretia Hamilton (United States, 1908–1986); Charlotte Hannan (Germany/United States); Jeanne Russell Janish (also Mrs. Carl F. Janish; United States, 1902–1998); Christabel King (England); Carl Ignaz Leopold Kny (Germany, 1841–1916); Paul Landacre (United States, 1893–1963); Dorika Leyniers de Buyst (Belgium); Chrissie Lightfoot (England); Petr Liska (Czechoslovakia); Stanley Maltzman (United States); Yoshikaru Matsumura (Japan, 1906–1967); Roderick McEwen (Scotland, 1932–1982); Joan McGann (United States); Jeni Neale (also Jeni Barlow; England); Gunnar Normann (Sweden, 1912–2005); Marilena Pistoia (Italy); Frantisek Procházka (Czechoslovakia, 1911–1976); Pierre-Joseph Redouté (Belgium, 1759–1840); Elizabeth Rice (England); Nicolas Robert (France, 1614–1685); Christian Schkuhr (Germany, 1741–1811); Geraldine King Tam (United States); Gesina B. Threlkeld (Netherlands/United States); Unknown artist (Mexico, fl.1787–1803), Torner Collection of Sessé & Mociño Biological Illustrations; Unknown artist (United States, fl.1900s), USDA Forest Service Collection; Frederick Andrews Walpole (United States, 1861–1904). A selection of rare books from the Hunt Institute Library collection also is included in this exhibition.

Opening reception

Join us Thursday, 18 September 2014, 5–7 pm for an opening reception. At 5:30 pm Assistant Curator of Art Carrie Roy will give a short introduction to the exhibition in the gallery.

Cèilidh weekend

We will also open on Saturday, 11 October, 1–4 pm, during Carnegie Mellon University’s Cèilidh Weekend festivities. Docent–led tours will be available throughout the afternoon. 

Cabinet of curiosities

On display during fall 2014 in our Cabinet of curiosities located in the lobby will be books from the Library collection featuring plants with thorns, spines and prickles. Humans are often undeterred by these sometimes pain-inducing plant features, finding that their sharpness can serve a purpose or that the plant is useful despite the pricks and jabs one might incur. The Cabinet will explore how these plants have been utilized.

Hours

The exhibition will be on display on the 5th floor of the Hunt Library building at Carnegie Mellon University and will be open to the public free of charge. Hours: Monday–Friday, 9 am–noon and 1–5 pm; Sunday, 1–4 pm (except 23 November and 27–30 November). Because our hours of operation are occasionally subject to change, please call or email before your visit to confirm. For further information, contact the Hunt Institute at 412-268-2434.

  • Left, Citron: Citrus medica [Citrus medica Linnaeus, Rutaceae], watercolor on paper by Marilena Pistoia (Italy), [pre-1984], 35 × 25.5 cm, for Laura Peroni, Il Linguaggio del Fiori (Milan, Arnoldo Mondadori, 1984, p. 53), HI Art accession no. 6773.20, © 1984 Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milan, All rights reserved. Center, Teasel [Dipsacus Linnaeus, Dipsacaceae], watercolor on paper by Celia Crampton (Africa/England), 2003, 37 × 28 cm, HI Art accession no. 7586, © 2003 Celia Crampton, All rights reserved. Right, Rosa canina L. [Rosa Linnaeus, Rosaceae], watercolor on paper by Petr Liska (Czech Republic), 1981, 24 × 16.5 cm, HI Art accession no. 6463, © 1981 Petr Liska, All rights reserved.