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Unturned Leaves Early Women in Botanical Illustration

Sarah Price

Sarah Price, who happened to be not only M.F. Lewis' contemporary but also her virtual neighbor, also produced spectacular images of mycological specimens found in rural England. Illustrations of the fungi of our fields and woods (1864-1865) offers an inventory of common mushrooms that Price found making the countryside in "her own neighborhood around Shropshire...gay in their abundance." This study is a more limited one than Lewis' work — covering 72 species only — but Price did manage to formally publish it as a slim 2 volume set thanks to funding provided by paying subscribers.

Among Price’s subscribers was William Jackson Hooker, then director of London's Royal Kew Gardens, to whom Price dedicated, in her modest words, "this small contribution to the literature of botany." In addition to Hooker, about another 200 or so subscribers appear on the front pages of each of Price's volumes, many a "Sir," "Lord," "Reverend" and "Mr." among them, but also, a remarkably high number of "Ladies," "Misses" and "Mrs's." While, like M.F. Lewis, Sarah Price remains virtually invisible in the published record of British mycology, a review of her subscriber list (where women — not even counting those who appear as part of a couple — make up 53% of the names represented) makes it easy to imagine the presence of a kind of vibrant sisterhood in the Midlands region of 19th century England, a network of kindred spirits and bright minds sharing a common fascination with the secrets to be found in the nooks and crannies of the world around them — along with a determination to help discover them.