The drawings seem as wispy and delicate as Victorian lace.
Leaves and stems nod in the sun. Cactus thorns spine more star-like than savage.
“Recording Southern New Mexico: The Botanical Drawings of Edward Skeats” opens at the University of New Mexico Art Museum this weekend.
The exhibition consists of 26 drawings of New Mexico plants, both familiar and obscure. Skeats captured everything from Arizona poppies to wild petunias, chaparral and milkweed in pastels and line.
Edward Miall Skeats (1848-1928) was a chemist, geologist, engineer and pioneer at heart. Born in England, he was also an amateur artist who recorded much of the plant life near what is now Carlsbad in the late 19th and very early 20th centuries. His son Arthur donated 59 of his father’s watercolors to UNM in 1966.
Skeats came to New Mexico in 1890 at the behest of C.B. Eddy, for whom Eddy County is named. Eddy asked him to find water wells. Skeats also played a key role in discovering potash deposits.
Between these discoveries, he took pen and brush to paper to document the local plant life.
“We have never exhibited any but a handful,” guest curator Joyce Szabo said.
“Botanical drawings are very different from botanical art,” she continued, “which focuses on painting pictures. Think of a baroque bowl of fruit. These are about the exactitude, the leaves, the stems, so that they are identifiable. He told his son he was doing this as a scientist.”
The exhibition also features displays of specimens and a plant press from the Museum of Southwestern Biology.