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Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation


Rachel portrait reunited with Savonnerie

11 January 2024

We're kicking off 2024 by restoring a bit of Institute history. On 11 January 1962 Rachel Hunt wrote Milton Samuels of French & Company, "I am going to keep the rug. I have placed it in front of my portrait at the Botanical Library with a nice old bench in back of it. It is so lovely I could not resist, and I do not have a spot in this house where I could place it. ... Mr. Hunt gave me a check for Christmas so I am going to tell him that that is his Christmas present to me."

At that time Rachel's portrait, painted at Elmhurst in 1930 by Antonio Ortiz Echagüe (1883–1942), hung in the lobby on the wall opposite the pantry. The rug in question was a 19th-century Savonnerie, and the bench, made of either Italian walnut or pine and likely from the 17th century, was purchased by George Lawrence during the annual Arts and Antiques Auction held 10–17 November 1960 at Carnegie Museum.

Over the years the portrait and bench were relocated to the reading room and the rug to the ladies' lounge. Given time and condition, the rug needed to move to a low-traffic area. As we looked around the reading room, we remembered our own history and saw the space through Rachel's eyes. Then we had the perfect solution. Returning things as close as possible to Rachel's original vision just felt right. We think she would be pleased. (Returning her portrait to the lobby is a herculean effort best left to the next generation of Institute staff.)

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About the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, a research division of Carnegie Mellon University, specializes in the history of botany and all aspects of plant science and serves the international scientific community through research and documentation. To this end, the Institute acquires and maintains authoritative collections of books, plant images, manuscripts, portraits and data files, and provides publications and other modes of information service. The Institute meets the reference needs of botanists, biologists, historians, conservationists, librarians, bibliographers and the public at large, especially those concerned with any aspect of the North American flora.

Media Contact:
Scarlett T. Townsend