Maria Morris: A Nova Scotian Garland

Friday, 17 July 2009 to Sunday, 17 January 2010

Many Nova Scotians are familiar with the four series of botanical lithographs issued by Maria Morris Miller between 1840 and 1867. Indeed, in 1998, one of the first exhibitions mounted from the John and Norma Oyler Collection of prints and drawings presented the complete set of her lithographs, and some were also featured in the exhibition, Potpourri, in 2005. Her botanical drawings in watercolour are found less frequently. A suite of ninety-four watercolours she had presented to the Mechanics’ Institute thirty years earlier, and inherited by the Nova Scotia Museum on its establishment in 1868, display the artist at a very accomplished level.

The sixty small watercolours in a recently discovered album, Wild Flowers of Nova Scotia, reveal her more tentative explorations of the botanical genre at an earlier stage; the flowers are not life-sized and in four of the drawings, the plants cast shadows on the page. We do not know if Maria Morris collected her own specimens, or, indeed, whether the purchaser selected this set from her existing drawings, or had brought her the flowers to be recorded for the album. The sixty watercolour drawings delineate fifty-eight different plants, each accompanied by Morris’s brief description. Verses found in Dorothea Dix’s A Garland of Flora from 1829 were included by Morris at the beginning and end of her album, providing a clue to its creation date. Later she produced a similar album for Lady Campbell, whose husband served as Lieutenant-Governor between 1834 and 1841, but this album may have been acquired by an English officer who took it home as a reminder of his time served in Nova Scotia.

By titling these early drawings with their botanical names, Morris has indicated that her concern from the beginning was both scientific and decorative, though the scientific resources available to her in Halifax would have been limited. She was, no doubt, assisted in the project by Titus Smith, who would write the text for her first set of botanical lithographs in 1840. Excerpts from poems inspired by these lithographs, and published by Clotilda Jennings just prior to the appearance of a second set of Wild Flowers of Nova Scotia as lithographs in 1853, appear on the relevant labels.

Dianne O’Neill
Associate Curator of Historical Prints & Drawings