Mary Vaux Walcott
Born into a Quaker family in 1860, Mary Vaux Walcott began watercolor painting after graduating from the Friends Select School. She had planned on attending Bryn Mawr, but when her mother passed away she took on responsibilities in the home of caring for her brothers and father.
The family often vacationed in the Canadian Rockies so her father could pursue his interests as an amateur geologist. Mary became very skilled at capturing the wild flowers of the region in detailed watercolors. And while botany and painting were appropriate pursuits for young ladies of the time she was much more adventurous in her life, opting to climb glaciers to find her subjects. During one of these trips she was asked to create a painting of a specimen by a botanist who then encouraged her to concentrate on botanical illustrations.
In 1913 she scaled Mount Robson, which with a height just shy of 13,000 feet, is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies. This would be the same year that she would meet Dr. Charles Walcott, a geologist and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. At the age of 54 and over her father’s objections the two where married the next year. The couple would split their time between Washington D.C. and traveling to the Rockies for a least a few months out of each year so that both Walcotts could pursue the work that had first brought them together. While in the U.S. capital, she became a close friend of the First Lady, Lou Hoover, and helped raise money to build a proper place of worship for the first Quaker president and his family.
Between 1925 and 1928 the Smithsonian published a five volume set of her work entitled Wildflowers of North America which included 400 paintings, the proceeds of which helped to support the work of the institution. A few years later 15 of her works were included in the publication Carnivorous Pitcher Plants and in 2014 the Smithsonian Institution Press with Smithsonian Institution Libraries reprinted a selection of Walcott’s work in a single volume.
Written by Angela Goad