Art is an integral part of scientific investigation and documentation. Before the advent of photography, illustrations were used to capture the natural world and share it with broader audiences through reproduction via woodcuts, engravings and etchings, and lithography in natural history publications. Even today, scientific illustration is important, articulating morphological, physiological and anatomical features with more detail and clarity than can often be captured through photographs.
Scientific illustrations are useful for communities in a wide range of disciplines. Our audiences have shared how they use these illustrations to support studies in the sciences, such as identifying the earliest observations on heterostyly in plants, researching the history of herbaria, and revisiting the legacy of women in science. Citizen scientists make use of these resources on platforms like Wikipedia and to research the identities of natural history artists.
Given that these illustrations are works of art, it’s not surprising that these collections are also providing a wealth of inspiration for artists like Dee Etzwiler, who recently used BHL images within nine pieces she created for a group show — Conversations: Reflections of 14 Women Artists — exhibited at the Maude Kerns Art Center (Eugene, OR) from 10 January – 7 February 2020.