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Research & Collections :: Collections at the State Museum :: Biology
The Natural and Cultural History Illustration Collection

Dicranum rugosum

The natural history and cultural illustration collection at the New York State Museum consists of 15-20,000 illustrations that have been done primarily for publications. These illustrations are of subjects in the fields of Anthropology, Biology, Geology, History, and Paleontology. There are at least 5,000 archeological and ethnological illustrations, some of them extraordinarily valuable as documents of time and history. Of the biological illustrations, nearly 2,000 of them (1,962) are by Charles H. Peck (mycologist at the Museum 1868-1913). Although these are not aesthetically impressive, many are very significant from a scientific viewpoint for being part of the type specimens. Also in the collection are 253 plates by Mary E. Banning painted for the Fungi of Maryland (unpublished) from the late 1800s. Both the Peck and Banning collections are historically interesting because they include an extensive amount of written material such as letters and field notes related to the illustrations. There are many thousands more recent botanical illustrations that have been done for Museum publications, including 17 volumes of The Flora of New York done by some of the most notable contemporary illustrators such as Bobbi Angell, Ann Lacy, Bente Starcke King and Ted Baim, (an artist who was associated with the Landis Arboretum for many years.) In addition to botanical subjects are collections of bird, fish, and paleontology illustrations done by several extraordinary and well-known artists. Among these are 118 paintings by Louis Agassiz Fuertes painted for the Birds of New York published in 1910 and 1914; 30 mixed media images done for Bird Life by Ernest Thompson Seton; many hundreds of exquisite ink wash illustrations by George Barkentin for the Crinoids of New York and the 14 volume Paleontology of New York. Also of great significance are 160 extremely beautiful fish illustrations by Ellen Edmunson and Hugh Crisp done for the Department of Environmental Conservation Fresh Water Fish Surveys 1926-1939. Finally, there in the collection many thousands of cartographic illustrations some of which date to the early 1800s and are notable for being the first comprehensive geological maps of any state in the country.

Agaricus illudens
The importance of natural history and cultural illustrations to research cannot be over emphasized. Although their contribution is often unrecognized, these visual records of research activities are an integral part of the process and results of such work. They are a public record of the work and research that has been done by the employees of New York State. In many cases illustrations are considered part of the type specimens. In other cases, illustrations are all that we have left of artifacts and specimens that no longer exist or have been lost.

The tradition of high quality investigation and survey work at the NYS Museum is long and includes scientists pivotal in their fields of study such as the mycologist Charles Peck, 1868-1913, who named thousands of new species, and Asa Fitch, appointed Entomologist for New York State in 1854, who each established their fields as recognized professions in this country; the paleontologist James Hall and John Torrey, authors of Paleontology of New York and Flowers of New York respectively, both of which became classic references; and Lewis H. Morgan, known as the "Father of Ethnology." All of these important figures used the skills of illustrators as do researchers working at the Museum today.

Etheostoma exile
In addition to the historically important works, the NYSM Illustration Collection is being expanded through the Focus on Nature Purchase Awards. These illustrations are selected from the international biennial exhibition as examples of excellent contemporary illustrations.

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