Sympathetic Detail: R. F. Deckert and the Art of Natural History Illustration

Over a year ago I stumbled upon ten large portfolios containing watercolor paintings of snakes, toads, frogs, turtles, and birds in the Michigan State University Museum‘s collections. And now a relative handful of these images are on exhibition at the Museum!

The artist was the German-born and largely self-taught Richard Frederick Deckert (1878-1971), who was also  a herpetologist and a collector of tree snails, snakes, and amphibians.

Deckert immigrated with his family to New York City in 1887. He began studying nature in 1900 and by the 1910s was working with and illustrating the inhabitants of the New York Zoological Society’s Bronx Zoo Reptile House.

After moving to Florida in 1920, Deckert continued to explore nature with other scientists, including Howard Atwood Kelly (1858-1943), a renowned medical doctor and professor at Johns Hopkins University and a highly regarded herpetologist.

Dr. Kelly traveled annually to Florida in the 1920s, meeting with Deckert and purchasing from him 353 paintings of snakes, frogs, toads, turtles, birds, and flowers. Dr. Kelly’s sons donated the collection to the MSU Museum in 1958.

The exhibition opened on 28 November 2016. I’ve posted a Facebook album of the exhibited images. Take a look!

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