Introduction | Exhibit Homepage | Credits

Above: presumed artist Marian Wrench, “The Cheerful Spoon Gourd at About One-Third Natural Size; and at the Left a Fruit of the Bicolor Pear Gourd,” in L. H. Bailey, The Garden of Gourds (1937), frontispiece. Below: Liberty Hyde Bailey, Balsam-Pear, direct digital scan from glass plate negative. Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum & Gardens, South Haven, Michigan. Bottom: presumed artist Florence Mekeel, “Balsam-Pear,” in L. H. Bailey, The Garden of Gourds (1937), p. 117, and here.

“[T]he primary interest in gourds should be that of the gardener and the horticulturist. They may have a definite place, associated with seasons and birds and gardening labor. The germination will be interesting, with the way in which they pull themselves out of the seed-coat hood and then straighten themselves to the sky; the rapid continuous growth is reassuring; blossoms of the two separate kinds are stimulating; and there is never-ceasing satisfaction in the forthright development of the fruits. It is usually my practice to grow the different kinds in separate parts of the garden as far as possible, and I find myself going from one planting to the other to make comparisons in progress; and although I have known them for so many seasons I never cease to wonder at the shapes and colors.” –LHBGC, p. 187

In 1936, a seventy-nine-year-old Bailey wrote, “my technical and scientific writings on the Cucurbits began nearly fifty years ago; and now, as the years are ripe, I wish to express my joy in the experiences.” That joy led to the first of his series of “Garden Books,” each based on a different family of plants that he had grown and collected for many years, exploring them through the personal and artistic experience of the garden as well as through the methodical science of taxonomy. The cucurbits, or gourd family, include a wide variety of horticultural plants, including melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, squashes, and the hard-shelled fruits that are more commonly called gourds. Bailey’s many “technical and scientific writings” contributed significantly to making taxonomical sense of the large family. The photograph at left, of a gourd known as the balsam-pear, was taken by Bailey, likely of a specimen from his garden at Sage Place, and it was clearly used as the model for the corresponding illustration in The Garden of Gourds, seen below.

“It is the first day of October. Summer birds are gone. Frosts have signaled for winter. All tender vegetables are harvested from the garden. Marigolds and zinnias and a few other rugged things still retain the glow of warm weather, yet the autumn chill is in the air, new colors are on the hills, dead leaves begin to cover the grass. […] Yet even now the gourds hang on the trellises, and although blossoms are mostly gone and leaves have passed their prime, the bright green-and-yellow striped fruits in comely attractive form ask for attention. Probably every year since my youth—and that was long ago—I have grown gourds of one kind or another and sometimes of many kinds. I have made an herbarium collection of them, for record, including foliage and flowers; and many fruits lie in boxes. I cannot remember when I did not know them.” –LHBGC, p. 183

Bailey utilized photography for record-keeping, to enhance his herbarium specimens, and for reproduction or as the model for illustrations in his books. His photographic eye was incredibly artistic, and in the late 1980s John Szarkowski, the legendary Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, happened upon the thousands of cyanotype (blueprint) photographs taken and developed by Bailey in the archives at Cornell University. Some of these cyanotypes, as digitized by archival staff at Cornell University, can be seen throughout this exhibition. Szarkowski planned to publish a collection of Bailey’s photography, which would have been his last book project. While that book never fully materialized, Szarkowski did immortalize Bailey’s contributions to American photography in his renowned exhibition and accompanying book Photography Until Now, which featured one of Bailey’s photobooks of cucurbits, similar to that seen below. Bailey’s works evidently stood out to visitors at the exhibition, as is evidenced in critic Kay Larson’s review, which features Bailey’s photobook prominently and describes his cyanotypes as possessing “a surrealistic intensity and wistful mysticism that reminds [the viewer] of Joseph Cornell.”

Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Pumpkins of 1889, photographic scrapbook, cyanotype photographs. Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium Collection. Also available online here.

See Bailey’s horticultural entries on gourds in:

Thanks to Carl Fuldner for his help pointing us to some of the Szarkowski material on this page.

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