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Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

Persons, Collections and Topics


The life and work of this treasured American botanical artist continues to inspire artists working in this genre. Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden (1907–2007) extensively researched and then wrote, illustrated and designed 9 books and 5 magazine articles and illustrated 9 books and 9 articles by other authors (see bibliography) on plant themes. She had a passion for understanding the interdependency of plants and their pollinators, and she considered it her greatest mission to educate young readers about nature. The Hunt Institute included her work in several exhibitions, including the retrospective A Blossom on the Bough (2002), and is the repository of the most extensive collection of Dowden original watercolors and ink drawings (438), research drawings, publication layouts and correspondence through a gift from the artist.

Dowden's mother was from Uniontown, Pennsylvania; her father from Wooster, Ohio. The family moved west because of her father's tuberculosis. Even at age five, Anne Ophelia knew that she would become an artist. Her first illustrations were for a book by her father, who was a pathologist at the University of Colorado. Mrs. Dowden was educated at the University of Colorado, Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), the Beaux Arts Institute of Design and the Art Students League. Formerly drawing instructor at the Pratt Institute; Chairman, Art Department, Manhattanville College, New York; and free-lance textile designer in New York, she has been a free-lance botanical artist and writer since 1950. For a number of years the Dowdens lived in New York; Ray Dowden (1905–1982), also an artist, taught at Cooper Union, and we also have 16 of his artworks.

She began her botanical career in illustrating for magazines such as Life, Audubon, House Beautiful and Natural History. (Four of the Life illustrations were included in the Hunt Institute's first International Exhibition in 1964.) Her books were a result of a friend's introducing her to Crowell Publishers of New York. The first one was intended for seventh graders, and all were for young adults. Mrs. Dowden remarked, "Art teaches young people. I wanted to present ideas myself pictorially and in words. We're lucky to be artists. I always found it a very satisfying field." She refers to the pleasure, fun and joy of being an artist and learning about "the most beautiful world of intricate relationships" explained in her books, The Clover and the Bee: A Book of Pollination (1990) and From Flower to Fruit (1984). Dowden ceased painting and arranged for the repository of her art materials, original artworks and papers after her Poisons in Our Path: Plants That Harm and Heal in 1994.

Dowden's illustrations were included in a series of reproductions for the Frame House Gallery, covers for Garden Journal (1970, vol. 20, issue 3) and House Beautiful (May 1960) and the following publications:

Anderson, F. 1974. Celebrants of nature: Wild-flower painters of America. Garden Journal 24(2): 48–53 and cover.

[April.] Anonymous. 1952. Free meals from woods and field. Life 32(21): 60–62. [26 May.]

Anonymous. 1955. Beautiful blooming bushes. Life 38(15): 95–103. [11 April.]

Anonymous. 1955. The best U.S. evergreens. Life 39(23): 121–125. [5 December.]

Anonymous. 1957. Wildflowers for gardens. Life 42(21): 92–100. [27 May.]

Anonymous. 1961. Speak to the Earth. Natural History 70(6): 30–39 and cover. [June–July.]

Anonymous. 1972. Weed hunting in Manhattan. Garden Journal 22(5): 134–139 and cover.

Anonymous. 1999. Autobiographical sketch of Anne Ophelia Dowden. Herbarist 65: 46–49.

Borland, H. 1969. Plants of Christmas. New York: Golden Press. (Revised, T. Crowell, 1987)

Borland, H. 1970. Flowers of the 50. Audubon 72(4): 18–27.

Borland, H. 1977. The Golden Circle: A Book of Months. New York: T. Crowell.

Busch, P. 1977. Wildflowers and the Stories Behind Their Names. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Crowell, R. 1982. The Lore and Legends of Flowers. New York: T. Crowell.

Dowden, A. O. T. 1963. Look at a Flower. New York: T. Crowell.

Dowden, A. O. T. 1964. The Secret Life of the Flowers. New York: Odyssey.

Dowden, A. O. T. with R. Thomson. 1965. Roses. New York: Odyssey.

Dowden, A. O. T. 1972. Green against gray. Audubon 74(3): 6–13.

Dowden, A. O. T. 1972. Wild Green Things in the City: A Book of Weeds. New York: T. Crowell.

Dowden, A. O. T. 1973. Pageant in the treetops. Audubon 75(3): 20–30. [May.]

Dowden, A. O. T. 1975. The Blossom on the Bough: A Book of Trees. New York: T. Crowell.

Dowden, A. O. T. 1975. To pollinate an orchid. Audubon 77(5): 40–47. [September.]

Dowden, A. O. T. 1978. State Flowers. New York: T. Crowell.

Dowden, A. O. T. 1979. This Noble Harvest: A Chronicle of Herbs. New York: T. Collins.

Dowden, A. O. T. 1984. From Flower to Fruit. New York: T. Collins.

Dowden, A. O. T. 1990. The Clover and the Bee: A Book of Pollination. New York: T. Collins.

Dowden, A. O. T. 1994. Poisons in Our Path: Plants That Harm and Heal. New York: HarperCollins.

Kerr, J. 1969. Shakespeare's Flowers. New York: T. Crowell.

Ligon, L. 1993. Botanical art of Anne Ophelia Dowden. The Herb Companion April/May: 64–69.

McCormick, J. 1959. The red prairie sunflower. Natural History 68(7): 420–423 and inside back cover. [August–September.]

Paterson, J. and K. Paterson. 1986. Consider the Lilies: Plants of the Bible. New York: T. Crowell.

Rickett, H. W. 1974. Wild Flowers of the United States. New York: New York Botanical Garden. [Reproductions of watercolor paintings by Dowden for six title pages of the series.]

Todd, A. O. 1961. The Little Hill: A Chronicle of the Flora on a Half Acre at the Green Camp, Ringwood, New Jersey, CUAS 8, Cooper Union Art School.

Untermeyer, L. 1970. Plants of the Bible. New York, Golden Press.

Untermeyer, L., ed. 1970. Roses. New York: Golden Press.

Thumbnails of the Dowden images will be added to the Catalogue of the Botanical Art Collection at the Hunt Institute database. To locate images in the database, search on the artist's last name. To inquire about publishing these images, please contact the Art Department.

Other resources

The Institute has organized and circulated travel shows of "Shakespeare's Flowers," "State Flowers" and "Poisons in Our Path." Works by Dowden have been included in the following Hunt Institute exhibitions and accompanying catalogues: Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden: Botanical Illustrations (1965), Flora Portrayed (1985), Gifts of Winter (2000), the 1st–4th International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration (1964, 1968, 1972, 1977) and Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden: A Blossom on the Bough (2002).

Additional items, such as designs and layouts, numerous awards for books and correspondence, are housed in the Hunt Institute Archives Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden collection no. 245.

For information about portraits of and biographical citations for the artist, see the Hunt Institute Archives Register of Botanical Biography and Iconography database.

Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden (1907–2007), in her studio, Boulder, Colorado, May 1999, 20 × 25 cm, photograph by Lugene B. Bruno, HI Archives portrait no. 8, reproduced by permission of the photographer.

Selected Artworks

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