Sunday, May 15, 2011

Seedswomen of Minnesota

Over the weekend, I got the chance to catch the tail end of the Seed Stories exhibit at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Lots of reproductions of seed catalog art, which is much more visually interesting than you might assume.

The part that caught my attention the most was the wall labeled Minnesota's Own: 3 Seedswomen, which told the stories of pioneering businesswomen who had their own seed catalogs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Portrait of Carrie LippincottCarrie Lippincott was first, starting in 1886 and publishing her first catalog in 1891. According to the exhibit card, "She targeted women customers, a first in this business, and focused solely on flowers, another first." The artwork is classic late Victorian, lithographs in full color, showing exaggerated flowers and archetypal figures.

Litho of asters

Litho of red white and blue primulas

Litho of Japanese woman in kimono with many colored morning glories

Jessie Prior started her business, located in Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis, in 1895. Her husband was already in the business, and there appears to have been some controversy among her competitors that the use of Jessie's name was only a marketing gambit. Jessie did apply for membership in the all-male American Seed Testing Association in 1903, however, only to be turned down because she was a woman.

Litho of colorful asters

Litho of yellow and orange nasturtiums

Litho of dark and yellow pansies

Grim looking Victorian womanEmma White followed with a catalog in 1896. In the early years, she often used pixie figures to accompany the flower art in her materials, which differentiated them from the more straight-laced visuals of Prior and Lippincott. Her photo, which was printed in the catalogs, provides a somber contrast to the light-hearted illustrations.

Litho of pansies with pixie figures

Litho of California poppies with pixies

Litho of many colored asters

When looking at the artwork, I couldn't help wondering who the artists were. The few attributions visible were to litho houses in Manhattan, so it appears it wasn't done locally. I wonder what those litho houses were like for the artists to work in, and how much input these seedswomen had into the final artwork that represented them.

It seems like there's a good book in this topic, if not a novel based on the rivalry.

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