Botany and History Entwined, Rachel Hunt’s Legacy 

16 September–15 December 2011

Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, 5th Floor, Hunt Library, Carnegie Mellon University, 4909 Frew Street, Pittsburgh, PA  

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist - Volume 17, Issue 3


To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Hunt Institute presents rare gems from the original collection of founder Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt (1882–1963). Her early love of nature and books grew into a lifelong pursuit of rare or historical works about plants, gardens and botany. She became fascinated by the people associated with these books and also collected their portraits, letters, manuscripts and original artworks. 

Elmhurst, the home and gardens of Rachel and Roy Arthur Hunt (1881–1966) in Shadyside, Pittsburgh’s East End, housed her collection of rare books, artwork, antique furniture, tapestries and sculpture and reflected her love of plants and their history. By the 1950s Hunt’s collection was widely known for its excellence and was sought by leading universities and botanical centers. 

Under the editorial stewardship of her personal librarian, Jane Quinby, and with essays from leading authorities on her collection and the historical background of the items in it, work commenced on the Catalogue of Botanical Books in the Collection of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt (Hunt Catalogue; 1958–1961). Wanting the collection to remain in Pittsburgh, the Hunts decided to donate it and a building to Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) to house both the collection and campus library. 

Dedicated in 1961, the Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt Botanical Library was envisioned as a research center focusing on the history of botany and of botanical publication, and as a repository to preserve her collection, curated, augmented and made accessible to researchers. By 1971 the organization had so diversified that it was renamed the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation with four departments – Archives, Art, Bibliography and Library. In the past fifty years Hunt’s original collection has been substantially augmented in all departments. Further the Hunts’ original vision of a living collection with public availability, the Institute maintains a regular exhibition and publication program, with accessibility for research on scientific and cultural subjects related to plant sciences. A full color catalog accompanies the exhibition. 

Talks and tours during this exhibition include: September 18, Archivist Angela Todd presents “USDA botanist B. Y. Morrison and his forwardthinking secretary, May Blaine;” during Carnegie Mellon’s Cèilidh Weekend, Curatorial Assistant Catherine Hammond gives a gallery tour, October 29; and Publication and Marketing Manager Scarlett Townsend offers a tour, October 30, of the antique furniture in the Reading Room, which was designed to capture the essence of Hunt’s personal library. Curator of Art Lugene Bruno’s talk, “Pierre- Joseph Redouté and his collaboration with botanists,” is November 6. Librarian Charlotte Tancin’s talk, “At the center of the network: Dutch botanist Carolus Clusius (1526–1609),” is December 4. Contact: Call or email before your visit to confirm hours. Lugene Bruno, Curator of Art, and Cate Hammond, Assistant Curator of Art PH: 412-268-2434; Email: 

  • Caption: [Bouquet of flowers], watercolor on vellum by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759–1840), 1839, HI Art accession no. 2202. This bouquet was painted by Pierre-Joseph Redouté in his final year and was acquired by Rachel Hunt in the last year of her life, capping a history of collecting Redouté items one at a time over decades, including portraits and handwritten letters. ©2011 Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation All Rights Reserved
  • Inset, Rachel Hunt standing at her garden gate at Elmhurst, HI Archives Hunt Collection no. 252, box 52, portrait no. 19. Background, Iris d’Espaigne and Iris Florence, etching by Berrurier after an original by an unknown artist for Jean Franeau (fl.1615), Jardin d’Hyver ou Cabinet des Fleurs (Douay, 1616, [pp. 150–151]), HI Library call no. DG23 F826j. Rachel Hunt purchased this early gardening manual at the first book sale that she attended.