Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Special Collections Fossickings 7: Women of Flowers 2. Vera Scarth-Johnson 1912-1999.

Have you ever been to Cooktown? And if so did you visit Nature’s Powerhouse in the botanical gardens to see the flower paintings?

In one of life’s coincidences botanical artist Vera Scarth-Johnson grew up close to the Yorkshire home of Captain Cook, and spent the last decades of her life in the town named after him. 
Item from the North Queensland Collection

Published posthumously National Treasures: the flowering plants of Cooktown and Northern Australia contains nearly 150 of Vera’s exquisite and botanically accurate paintings. Perhaps it was serendipitous that, unable as a woman to find employment in her chosen field of horticulture, she developed another significant talent by attending art college.

In 1947, still intent on horticulture, Vera migrated to Australia. Becoming only the second woman to receive a cane assignment (near Bundaberg) she nonetheless continued developing her skills as a botanical artist and collector. She began contributing botanical specimens and illustrations to herbaria in Australia and overseas, with 1700 specimens contributed to the Queensland herbarium alone.
The same book opened at pages 54 - 55.

In 1972, aged 60, she moved to Cooktown and began painting the flowers of the Endeavour Valley. The botanical richness of the area enraptured her and she became a passionate defender of its beauty and flora. Working with Aboriginal communities she searched for, illustrated and identified hundreds of plants, recording their Aboriginal, as well their scientific and English, names. In 1989 she donated her paintings to the people of Cooktown where they are housed in the Nature’s Powerhouse centre she helped establish.

The title of this lovely book is surely appropriate for, through her talent, endeavour, passion and generosity, she undoubtedly became a national treasure herself.

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