Students in Cheetham’s Plants & Ecology Class Spend an Afternoon in the Archives


LSU landscape architecture students in Louise Cheetham Bordelon’s plants and ecology class (LA 7024) visited Hill Memorial Library to view a selection of rare books and to participate in a drawing exercise in preparation for their semester-long project, which takes an in-depth look at Louisiana’s native plants.

February’s Afternoon in the Archives, titled Let Nature Be Your Guide: Graphic Design of the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau Movements, featured a selection of some of the beautiful—and very old—items housed in LSU Libraries’ Rare Book and Laughlin Collections. The selection featured books and examples of graphic design from the end of the 19th century, when designers such as William Morris, Eugène Grasset, and Alphonse Mucha “wove naturalism with whimsy and brought the beauty of natural forms back into people’s homes,” explained Michael Taylor, rare book curator for LSU Libraries. One landscape student was particularly excited to see a first-edition fairytale book from 1895, a later version of which he owned as a child growing up in China.

View items from the selection here.

After viewing the graphic design materials, the students were given a special, up-close look at some of the working and final drawings of Margaret Stones. “An experience that never fails to delight,” said Bordelon.

Stones is an Australian botanical illustrator and a contributing artist to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, the world’s longest running botanical magazine, published continually since 1787. In 1976, Stones was commissioned to create a series of six watercolors as part of LSU’s celebration of the American bicentennial. The project’s scope expanded, and for several years, Stones and a team of LSU botanists traveled throughout Louisiana gathering plant specimens. More than 200 of Stones’ drawings were published in Flora of Louisiana by LSU Press in 1991. Her original drawings, and selected working drawings, are now held in the LSU Libraries Special Collections in Hill Memorial Library.

The students spent the afternoon at Hill Memorial Library replicating Stones’ drawings of botanical specimens from 21 original volumes of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. The visit to Hill Memorial Library and the drawing exercise were made possible by Michael Taylor and Leah Wood Jewett, exhibitions coordinator of LSU Libraries Special Collections at Hill Memorial Library.

In Bordelon’s plants and ecology course, graduate landscape architecture students are introduced to plants from a landscape architecture perspective—an investigation devoted to the form, structure, and aesthetic use of plants in landscape design and application. Each class begins with a lecture on ecological theory as it relates to ecological restoration, restoration theory, planting, and plant knowledge. Then students spend time outdoors, identifying and studying Louisiana’s native plants and trees at the LSU Hilltop Arboretum. Over the course of the semester, the students will combine their illustrations and observations with information gleaned elsewhere to develop their own plant reference guide featuring 50 native Louisiana plants.

Louise Cheetham Bordelon is an adjunct faculty member of the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, where she received an MLA in 2010. She is pursuing a PhD in cultural landscapes in the LSU Department of Geography & Anthropology, a stepping stone toward her research in visual thinking.