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Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

Persons, Collections and Topics


The Art Department has 36 pen-and-ink drawings by Francesca Anderson (1946–).

Francesca Anderson is an American artist who specializes in pen-and-ink illustrations of botanical and other natural history subjects. An incredibly well-respected and prolific artist, Anderson has won several awards for her work, been published in scientific publications, field guides, books and magazines and has work included in the collections of museums and gardens across the United States and abroad. Her illustrations balance fine detail and accuracy with fluid lines and loose mark making, lending visual interest from afar and up close. Upon first viewing, the textures and depth of tonal range are striking for illustrations created solely in ink, and she uses a slightly larger than life scale to monumentalize common plants, like cabbage or amaryllis. Upon close inspection, the playfulness in her lines, some nearly scribble-like in their looping and overlapping, is surprising and allows for a lightness in the monochromatic composition.

This balance between playfulness and humor alongside meticulous attention to detail and accuracy could as easily describe Francesca Anderson. Raised in Pittsburgh, Anderson credits weekend art classes through the Carnegie Museum of Art with Joseph Fitzpatrick in her adolescence with her interest in understanding the intimate connections between science and art. (Fitzpatrick, a local sculptor and art teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, is perhaps best known for teaching a veritable who's who of Pittsburgh's young artists through these Saturday art classes for gifted children, called Tam O'Shanters, including Andy Warhol, Mel Bochner, Jonathan Borofsky, Raymond Saunders and Jack Butler.) Anderson later moved to Purchase, New York, to attend Manhattanville College with the intention of studying physics but instead earned a B.F.A. in 1968. Years later, having relocated to Brooklyn, New York, married and raising two daughters, Anderson continued to pursue art and was able to earn an M.A. in studio art from Hunter College in 1984 and an M.F.A. in drawing and painting from Brooklyn College in 1987. Artistically, Anderson found herself gravitating towards a realism that was not in vogue among her peers in art school, and she sought further education in the specialized fields of scientific illustration and botanical art. In 1991 she received a certificate in botanical illustration from New York Botanical Garden in Bronx, New York, where she met Michael J. Balick, then director and philecology curator of the Institute of Economic Botany (now also vice president for botanical science) at New York Botanical Garden, who was also the first recipient of our Lawrence Memorial Award (1979). Over the next 30 years, Anderson illustrated field guides and scientific publications, several by Balick, primarily in pen-and-ink. Drawing almost exclusively from life, dried herbarium specimens or taxidermy, Anderson illustrates botanical subjects as well as other natural history subjects and is well known for her illustrations of birds, one of which adorns the labels of her family-owned winery, Onabay Vineyards.

During this period of Anderson's career as a working artist, she was also a founding member of the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA) and a trustee of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG), for whom she also founded its Florilegium in 2000. In recognition of her years of civic and philanthropic service to both the garden and the borough at large, in 2008 BBG awarded the Distinguished Service Medal at their annual Forsythia Day awards ceremony. In 1995 she received her first gold medal from the Royal Horticultural Society, London, followed by another in 1999 and a silver-gilt medal in 2001. She was awarded the Diane Bouchier Artist Award for Excellence in Botanical Art from ASBA in 2009 and in 2019 she received its James White Service Award, which is named for our former Curator of Art James J. White (1941–2011). In 2023 Anderson was named an honorary curator of art, a courtesy appointment reflecting her long relationship with the Hunt Institute and continued advocacy for botanical art and illustration worldwide.

Anderson has exhibited consistently, both in solo and group shows in the United States and abroad, since 1972. This includes our 7th International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration (1992); Contemporary Botanical Artists: The Shirley Sherwood Collection (1996–1997), which originated at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and traveled internationally including here at the Hunt Institute in 1996; and What We Collect: Three Major Gifts (2023), which included 13 pen-and-ink drawings selected from two donations made by Anderson in 2021 and 2023 to the Institute.

Anderson describes her work as emphasizing the "process and value of an individual's perception of a subject," an instinct she fears is being overwhelmed by technology and viewing "nature through a machine rather than the wonder of discovering the beauty of nature simply with one's senses" (pers. comm., 2023).

Thumbnails of the Anderson images have been added to the Catalogue of the Botanical Art Collection at the Hunt Institute database. To locate these images in the database, search on the artist's last name.

Other Resources

For information about portraits of and biographical citations for the subject, see the Hunt Institute Archives Register of Botanical Biography and Iconography database.

Francesca Anderson (1946–), Florida, June 2023, photograph by Brad Anderson, reproduced by permission of the photographer.

Selected Artworks

[+] Click to enlarge