Drawing of octopus devouring a ship [ca. 1828-1840]
Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA
“The wife of Edward Hitchcock ( (1796–1864)  geologist, theologian, professor and for a decade president of Amherst College), Orra White Hitchcock  produced dozens of striking watercolors of native plants, picturesque lithographs of the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers, symbolic compositions and drawings of prehistoric fossils as well as large, colorful geological designs for her husband’s lectures. Self-taught, she rose to become the principal female illustrator of her generation in the United States.”

From Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science , the title of a 2011 exhibition at Mead Art Gallery at Amherst College and a exhibition catalogue by Robert L. Herbert and Daria D’Arienzo. Thumbnails of the art work in the exhibition are available online in an  Orra White Hitchcock Checklist; the images show the range of her work. Hitchcock’s watercolors of native plants deserve particular note. Between 1817 and 1821, she created Herberium Parvum Pictum, a 64 page album of watercolors depicting approximately 175 flower and grass specimens from her husband’s native plant collection.

Autumnal Scenery , View in Amherst
Hand-colored lithograph created from the original painting by Orra White Hitchcock (1833)
Jones Library, Amherst, Special Collections

“In 1830, Edward [Hitchcock] was appointed state geologist for Massachusetts and over the next two years, Orra prepared drawings for the lithographs for his massive Report on the Geology, Mineralogy, Botany, and Zoology of Massachusetts, published by the Commonwealth in 1833.”

From Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science by Robert L. Herbert and Daria D’Arienzo, distributed by University Press of New England, p. 31.

“Orra White Hitchcock Classroom Drawings” is a Digital Commonwealth Collection consisting of 61 drawings by Orra White Hitchcock, made for use in her husband’s geology and natural history classes at Amherst College.

Orra White Hictchcock drawing of woolly mammoth skeleton [ca. 1828-1840]
Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA
 “Given the obvious compatibility – indeed, synergy – between art and science, it is puzzling that the two fields have been perceived over the centuries as polarized. Fortunately, this divide is beginning to narrow. Journals as prestigious as Nature now carry regular reviews of art exhibits with relevance to science, for example. Orra White Hitchcock was one of a handful of plucky and observant women in her time whom we know bridged science and art. She can continue to provide inspiration for creative people, unencumbered by traditional roles, who want to celebrate the natural world – and all the wondrous discoveries still to be made.”

Elizabeth Farnsworth, “A Scientific Illustrator Looks Back at Orra White Hitchcock” in Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science, pp. 47-48.

Orra White Hitchcock drawing of valleys [ca. 1828-1840] Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA
Through collaboration with institutions like Amherst College and the Jones Library (Amherst), Digital Commonwealth brings together curated collections of materials in a wide variety of formats. Digital Commonwealth (DC) provides a single online point of access for collections from over 200 member institutions.  DC is the host for Amherst College Archives & Special Collections’ “Orra White Hitchcock Classroom Drawings” .  Over fifteen hundred collections can be searched online on the DC website.


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