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Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation


Rachel takes to Twitter to celebrate our 60th anniversary

19 October 2020

For our 50th anniversary we showed the gems from our collection, and the accompanying exhibition catalogue is still available. For our 60th anniversary we're going to focus more closely on our founder, Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt, and the construction of a new home for her library. By 1960–1961 Rachel had long ago built her collection of botanical books, artwork and autograph letters. This is not Rachel the collector. This is Rachel intensely focused on the details of establishing the perfect home for those precious items she had spent a lifetime collecting. This is also Rachel slowly letting go of those possessions as her indomitable will fights her aging body for enough time to finish this last great project. We're going to relive 1960–1961 with Rachel as she takes to Twitter to give tweet-by-tweet coverage from the building process through the procurement of antiques and reproduction of replicas to the dedication ceremony and beyond. When we can open to the public, we'll have ephemera, such as building plans, newspaper articles and photographs, from our Archives displayed in our lobby. Follow our tweets for now and stop by the lobby next year to join in the celebration.

Some of the items that Rachel donated or purchased are no longer part of our collections. While we have tried to maintain the spirit of Rachel's original design and décor, we were not equipped to properly curate her objets d'art. While her choices made perfect sense for a private home, they proved challenging in a public space as society changed over the years. As portable items began to disappear, they were removed from display. After items have been in storage for a number of years, keeping them becomes less important. While our fifth floor, or Penthouse as Rachel knew it, is not exactly the same today, you can experience what it looked like in 1960–1961 as it slowly took shape.

When possible, the words are Rachel's, taken from her letters with light editing to preserve her cadence in the ridiculously brief rhythm of Twitter. Those tweets are in quotation marks. The tweets without quotation marks were written based on information in the letters of Roy A. Hunt, Hunt Botanical Library Director George Lawrence and Rachel's longtime decorator Harold LeBaron, who reported decisions made in meetings with Rachel. The 1960–1961 dates have been adjusted to better fit the 2020–2021 calendar. We also tend to have a date range when an event likely occurred instead of a specific date when it happened. We have tried to be as accurate as possible based on the limited source material while creating something readable within the Twitter format. We're trying something new and so is Rachel. Be gentle with your comments. Rachel is not only tweeting from beyond the grave but also doing it at 138!

We were going to begin this project next year, but given the year we're having, we thought it might be a pleasant distraction from our current pandemic. While 1960–1961 was not a simpler time and Rachel goes through some trials of her own, we hope you take courage from her struggle and triumph. To follow Rachel on Twitter go to https://twitter.com/HuntBotanical.

About the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, a research division of Carnegie Mellon University, specializes in the history of botany and all aspects of plant science and serves the international scientific community through research and documentation. To this end, the Institute acquires and maintains authoritative collections of books, plant images, manuscripts, portraits and data files, and provides publications and other modes of information service. The Institute meets the reference needs of botanists, biologists, historians, conservationists, librarians, bibliographers and the public at large, especially those concerned with any aspect of the North American flora.

Media Contact:
Scarlett T. Townsend