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  • Writer's pictureNora Curry

Delightful Discoveries: Kate Furbish's Botanical Art

Kate Furbish is one of those wonderful discoveries across which one might suddenly stumble and remember just how much there is to love right here in Maine—both in the figures of our past and in the natural world around us. Born in 1834, Furbish was a botanical artist who grew up in Brunswick and fell in love with the wildflowers surrounding her during her early life. A skilled painter, she became increasingly interested in botany and traveled around the state collecting, classifying, and drawing its plants. She also co-founded and served as president of the Josselyn Botanical Society of Maine. Though she continued to work until her death in 1931, Furbish was most active from 1870 to 1908.

In Wildflowers of Maine: The Botanical Art of Kate Furbish, Melissa Dow Cullina, Director of Plant Sciences and Collections at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, threads a diverse selection of Furbish's watercolors throughout a biography of the botanical artist. The volume includes a map of where Furbish found the specimens she drew, allowing a chance to learn more about Furbish herself and the native flora of Maine. Her work is beautiful from an artistic standpoint while also maintaining scientific accuracy and attention to detail. Her story is one of a woman who defied expectations that she might sit politely at home and leave botanical research to men, as she instead forged ahead straight into bogs and forests, up mountains, and beyond in her efforts at documentation. Her legacy lasts in the name of Furbish's lousewort (Pedicularis furbishiae), which she discovered in Aroostook County in 1880. Most of Furbish's work is held at the Bowdoin College Library, but the petite volume Wildflowers of Maine allows those curious to enjoy Furbish's work from anywhere. Click here for a Guide to the Kate Furbish Collection at Bowdoin. You can also find Kate Furbish Elementary School (with a planned discovery classroom) and the Kate Furbish Preserve in Brunswick!

You can request books featuring information about Furbish and examples of her work by following the links to our catalog below:

Plants and Flowers of Maine: Kate Furbish's Watercolors, (with an introduction by Melissa Dow Cullina)

Wildflowers of Maine: The Botanical Art of Kate Furbish (with a biographical essay by Melissa Dow Cullina)

Kate Furbish and the Flora of Maine, Ada Graham & Frank Graham Jr.

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