We talk to Atelier Éditions about its new Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts
Atelier Éditions has assembled The United States Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection into a beautiful retrospect of nature, art, science, and gender.
- Joey Levenson
- 3 August 2021
Even though it may not be the most immediate connotations that are conjured up in the mind when thinking about the United States of America, the country boasts a vastly impressive agricultural and botanical collection. As an early attempt to document such a fact, The United States Department of Agriculture contains over 7,500 botanical watercolour paintings of evolving fruit and nut varieties in its Pomological Watercolor Collection, assembled between 1886 and 1942. Independent publishing house Atelier Éditions is now revisiting this documentation of American pomology with the release of its latest book: An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts. “I came across the collection a few years back while researching botanical artworks,” says Pascale Georgiev, editorial director of Atelier. “There was such potential for a book with this collection, and it fits with our way of building archival or collection-based volumes.” The book is a biophilic wonder, with beautiful images of fruits popping with gentle colours and careful watercolour work. Accompanying them are often texts by well-versed experts, giving a fascinating insight into the agriculture behind the produce.
“We only produce and consume a handful of varieties today, mainly hybrids that cater to our desire for a certain sweetness, juiciness, smoothness, even specific shapes and lack of seeds,” says Pascale on the importance of the book’s current publication. “In some respects, the collection is a time capsule, and a reminder about the importance of diversity and conservation,” she adds.
Additionally, an interesting part of assembling the book was highlighting the major contribution to science by women, with Pascale explaining that “they may not have been able to contribute to the field in other ways at the time.” The book is therefore more than a catalogue of fruits and nuts, but an interesting time capsule that invites a peek into contemporary art and science history. The book concentrates on featuring the 21 main artists that contributed to the pomological watercolour collection, including nine women. Deborah Griscom Passmore, Amanda Almira Newton, and Mary Daisy Arnold in particular made over 1,000 watercolour paintings for the Division of Pomology during their time there, and thankfully their hard work and dedication to agriculture has been stored for all to now witness.
“Revisiting the past helps us understand so much,” says Pascale. “Assembling a book about a collection like this one gave us the opportunity to explore how artists, and women, could contribute to science.” Pascale and her team at Atelier have crafted a fascinating collection of illustrated studies that demonstrate the level of precision and detail artists worked on before the advent of colour photography. “The book itself becomes both a taste of the collection and field of pomology, as well as a window into the beauty of imperfections and the diversity of varieties of fruits and nuts.” The watercolours create the hyperrealism required for such scientific studies, but they also serve the dual purpose of simply being beautiful, colourful, and easy to transport. “Specific watercolour studies would be selected to be reproduced as lithographs within their annual yearbooks,” Pascale explains. “These yearbooks contained articles on current agriculture research and studies, including selected illustrations, plus statistical tables.”
Atelier continues its drive to open and create space for conversation with every book it publishes. An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts is no different, as it goes beyond being decorative and moves towards being educational and expressive. “There is the hope that by experiencing the beauty of these works, a new appreciation for biodiversity and the preservation of indigenous botanical varieties is found,” Pascale says. But, most of all, the importance of nature’s unparalleled and sacred beauty is at the heart of Pascale’s intentions with the publication. “It was such a pleasure to edit, and I do hope readers share the same delight in discovering a shiny plum named tragedy, the sheep’s wool formations of mould on a lemon, or surprisingly pink blueberries.”
GalleryAtelier Éditions: Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts (Copyright © Atelier Éditions, 2021)
Atelier Éditions: Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts (Copyright © Atelier Éditions, 2021)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.