Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Pomological illustrations of Deborah Griscom Passmore

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Deborah Griscom Passmore, pictured below, was an artist who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

At that time there was rapid growth in the cultivation of new varieties of fruit and nut trees. Color photography was not widespread, so artists were hired to record the varieties of fruit. The artist's drawing we used for documentary purposes, so above their aesthetic appeals, they had to be accurate portrayals.

Of the many artists the USDA employed, Deborah Griscom Passmore was one of the most prolific as well as one of the best known. From the Sonoran Desert Florilegium Project article  Deborah Griscom Passmore and the art of the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
Deborah Griscom Passmore (1840–1911), the most prolific of the Division’s pomological artists, produced over 1,500 paintings of a large variety of fruit and nuts—over 700 paintings of apples alone. She was raised in an Orthodox Quaker community in Pennsylvania before leaving to study at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women and the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. After teaching art for several years, Passmore relocated to Washington D.C. and began working at the USDA in 1892. She was immediately tasked with creating many of the Department’s exhibits for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Her career at the USDA continued until her death in 1911.

Illustrating the subtle details of such a wide variety of fruit required technical and observational skills, patience, and long hours. An unnamed writer, whose informal biography of Passmore is kept with her papers at NAL, noted the following: “Her diversion was yellow cats, and, when exhausted from intense application of mind and body, nothing rested her so much as watching the graceful gambols of kittens. On any Sunday evening one might see her sitting under a lamp … with a large Bible across her knees, Dandy Jim in her arms, and Buttercup, as jealous as a cat can be, ready to spring at the first opportunity.”
Deborah Griscom Passmore 

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