Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science

Lady Slippers
Photo: Courtesy Deerfield Academy Archives

January 28 - May 29, 2011
Bassett and Daniels Galleries

Exhibition Checklist

Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science, a special exhibition that brings to light the little-known art of one of the Connecticut River Valley’s earliest female artists, will open on Friday, Jan. 28, at the Mead Art Museum of Amherst College.

The wife of Edward Hitchcock (1796–1864)—a geologist, theologian, professor and for a decade president of Amherst College—Orra White Hitchcock produced dozens of striking watercolors of native plants, picturesque lithographs of the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers, symbolic compositions and drawings of prehistoric fossils as well as large, colorful geological designs for her husband’s lectures. Self-taught, she rose to become the principal female illustrator of her generation in the United States. Exhibition co-curators Robert L. Herbert, professor emeritus of humanities at Mount Holyoke College, and Daria D’Arienzo, head of Amherst’s Archives and Special Collections from 1984 to 2007, have uncovered previously unknown drawings and many new facts that fill out the work and life of this singular woman, who considered herself not an “artist” but a mother, wife, and teacher who made illustrations.

“Orra White Hitchcock deserves to be better known,” said Elizabeth E. Barker, the museum’s director and chief curator. “We hope that this exhibition will help to secure her important position among our region’s most accomplished creative women of the nineteenth century. In fact, visitors interested the exploring the historical context of Orra’s achievement could easily make a day of it, by combining an excursion to the Mead with stops at other women’s history sites here in the Connecticut River Valley, including the Emily Dickinson Homestead (in Amherst) and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center (in Hartford).”

Comprising over 100 works, Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science runs through Sunday, May 29, and is accompanied by a generously illustrated catalogue featuring a biographical and interpretive essay by Herbert and D’Arienzo, as well as  contributions by Elizabeth Farnsworth, senior research ecologist with the New England Wild Flower Society, and Tekla Harms, professor of geology at Amherst. The catalogue is available through the Mead’s bookshop or by contacting the University Press of New England.

A selection of images of works included in the exhibition and a concise biographical chronology are available to members of the press by contacting Caroline Hanna in Public Affairs at 413/542-8417 or channa@amherst.edu.

Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Scienceis made possible by generous support from The Hall and Kate Peterson Fund. The Charles H. Morgan Fund and the Wise Fund for Fine Arts supported the publication of the accompanying catalogue.

The Mead Art Museum houses the art collection of Amherst College, totaling more than 16,000 works. An accredited member of the American Association of Museums, the Mead participates in Museums10, a regional cultural collaboration. During the academic term, the museum is open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to midnight and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, please visit the museum’s website, www.amherst.edu/mead, or call 413/542-2335.

Audio Tour:

Lady's Slippers
Orra White Hitchcock
Three Sugar Maple Leaves
Fungi selecti picti
Diagram of Stratified Deposits
Mastodon Maximus. Cuv.
Autumnal Scenery, View in Amherst
Prickly Ash and Sweet-Scented Soft Grass
Water Plantain
The Resurrection of Spring
Professor Edward Hitchcock Returning from a Journey
Curators' Notes

Now Available!
Orra White Hitchcock (1796-1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science

Herbert, D’Arienzo, 2010
ISBN: 0-978091-43-37232