A Piece of Botanical History Given a New Life
Visitors to the Adult Education classrooms on Garden grounds may have noticed a recent addition to the walls of the Watson Building in a series of framed, vintage botanical posters. These treasures were discovered in storage while refurbishing the botany lab, and we could not bear to dispose of such a colorful glimpse into the history of botanical science. While the paper had begun to yellow, the ink was flaking, and a few of the posters were beyond saving, Center Art Studio in Manhattan graciously took on the challenge of restoring ten of these double-sided instructional posters as a gift to the NYBG.
This series was originally the work of Father Hilary Jurica O.S.B., as published by A. J. Nystrom & Co., Chicago. Born in 1892, Jurica was a monk and a priest who earned a doctorate degree in biology from the University of Chicago in 1922. He was also the first monk of St. Precopius Abbey to attain this academic honor and the first American Benedictine to receive a doctorate from a secular university. Partnered with his young brother Fr. Edmund, a zoologist, Fr. Hilary the botanist spent forty years traveling around the country to gather many of the specimens on display in the Jurica Nature Museum in Illinois.
The driving force behind this collection was education. The Jurica brothers were at the forefront of the hands-on education movement, and these specimens were collected not for display, but for sharing and educational purposes. In addition, Fr. Hilary and Fr. Edmund worked with many students to produce the Jurica Biology Charts and accompanying student worksheets, which are still used today by high schools and colleges across the United States.
Now this series of botanical instructional posters—displaying such specimens as apple blossom, mushrooms, pine, and stems—graces the hallways of Watson’s third floor as well as several classrooms, where it inspires the botany and botanical art student alike. It is that enduring spirit of hands-on study that has guided the Garden’s education programs to this day. The Jurica biology series is an encouraging reminder of the rich legacy of nature study in America, which the Garden has been a part of since before these posters were illustrated, and which our exceptional instructors and students continue to support to this day.