Artist Frances Stilwell moved to Oregon in 1969 to pursue her work in environmental science, including as an ethologist, biologist, fisheries technician, geomorphologist, and botanist. However, in 1981, she decided to leave her scientific career to pursue her lifelong passion for art. The Oregon Historical Society is proud to share Stilwell’s stunning depictions of native Oregon plants in its new exhibit, Frances Stilwell: Oregon’s Botanical Landscape, which opens this Friday, January 14.
The exhibition includes paintings made by Stilwell in Bandon.
Stilwell learned about Oregon’s native plants through his friendship with Bessie Gragg Murphy, who grew up in a pioneer family in the Willamette Valley. Through this friendship, Stilwell met other plant enthusiasts and accompanied them on trips through Oregon. Stilwell found that illustrating plants helped him “become familiar with [her]self with all of [her] new state…” Their friendship inspired Stilwell’s first book, Come Walk Through Spring with Bessie Gragg Murphy (self-published in 2000).
Working primarily in pastel, Stilwell developed a growing number of works, depicting Oregon plants in their native habitats. His illustrations are the source of his second book, Oregon’s Botanical Landscape: An Opportunity to Imagine Oregon Before 1800. With 81 illustrations, Stilwell traveled across Oregon to paint each plant in its natural habitat.
In 2019, Stilwell donated the 81 illustrations featured in Oregon Botanical Landscape to the museum collection of the Oregon Historical Society. OHS cares for a range of objects that document the history of the area, including clothing and textiles, Native American artifacts, artwork, vehicles, equipment, and everyday objects. OHS Museum Deputy Director Nicole Yasuhara was thrilled to be the recipient of the artwork. “The collection is a time capsule of native Oregon plants and landscapes, which have been and will continue to be affected by climate change as well as cultural and demographic shifts in Oregon,” Yasuhara said. “In addition to being beautiful, the illustrations are historically significant.” Other notable artists represented in the museum’s art collection include Amanda Snyder, Cleveland Rockwell, JE Stuart, Hallie Heacock, Edward Quigley, Melville T. Wire, and Theodore Gegoux.
Stilwell worked closely with OHS museum staff to organize the exhibit, which includes scientific information alongside each illustration. Visitors will also have the opportunity to watch an interview with Stilwell where she shares her thoughts and experiences creating the works on display. His wish for visitors who view these works of art is that they “inspire in you and the next generation a sense of belonging to Oregon’s natural world.”
For a taste of spring during the cold winter months, plan a visit to Frances Stilwell: Oregon’s Botanical Landscape, on display at the Oregon Historical Society from January 14 to May 1, 2022. Limited quantities of Oregon’s Botanical Landscape are also available for purchase in the OHS Museum Shop. The Oregon Historical Society museum and store is open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10, with discounts for students, seniors, teachers, and youth.