American Fruits and Nuts in Vivid Detail

A new book looks at the U.S.D.A.’s historical watercolor record of the nation’s pomological bounty.


By Florence Fabricant

That the U.S. Department of Agriculture and art could be on speaking terms seems astonishing. Yet from 1886 to 1942 the agency commissioned artists to document fruits and nuts grown in the United States, to record the varieties and help with identification at a time when the use of color photography was not widespread. The beautiful new book exhibits but a fraction of the 7,584 botanical watercolor paintings in the collection. Lively, informative text accompanies the illustrations, and there are also entries by John McPhee, Jacqueline Landrey, Michael Pollan and Marina Vitaglione.

“An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts: The US Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection,” Atelier Éditions, $50.

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