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Mary Vaux Walcott

Also Known as: Mary Morris Vaux, Mary Morris Walcott, Mary Morris Vaux Walcott, Mrs.Charles Doolittle Walcott

Born:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1860

Died:
St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada 1940

Active in:

  • Washington, District of Columbia
  • British Columbia, Canada

Biography

Mary Morris Vaux received a set of watercolor paints at age eight and began experimenting with painting flowers. After her mother's death when Mary was nineteen, she assumed the responsibility of looking after her two younger brothers and her father. The family spent summers in the Canadian Rockies, where Mary and her brothers studied mineralogy and recorded the flow of glaciers in drawings and photographs. After 1887, Mary returned to western Canada almost every summer with her brothers and became an active mountain climber, outdoorswoman, and photographer. One summer a botanist asked her to paint a rare blooming arnica; her success in recording the flower encouraged her to concentrate on botanical illustration. For many years Mary Vaux explored difficult terrain in the Canadian Rockies, looking for important flowering species to paint.

In 1913 she met Charles Doolittle Walcott, then secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, when he was conducting geological research. They were married a year later. Beginning the following summer, the couple spent from three to four months each season in the Canadian Rockies, where Dr. Walcott continued his geological and paleontological studies. During these summers Mary Vaux Walcott painted hundreds of watercolor studies of native flowers.

At the urging of botanists and wildflower enthusiasts, a selection of four hundred of her illustrations was published in 1925 by the Smithsonian Institution in a five-volume edition titled North American Wild Flowers. In 1935 she contributed the illustrations to the volume North American Pitcher Plants, also published by the Smithsonian.

National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)