Cape Ann Museum CAM Connects
Today’s issue of CAM Connects is all about botany and gardening, with articles about the history of botanical exploration, investigation, and practice on Cape Ann.

April 7, 2022

Helen Cheves standing in her family’s garden on Hickory Street in Lanesville, 1907. Photograph by Alexander R. Cheves. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA.

Dear Friends,

With warmer weather on its way and flowers beginning to bloom, now is the perfect time to get involved with CAM’s floral and gardening initiatives!

During School Vacation week, from April 19 – 21, children can sign up to participate in planting a traditional kitchen garden at CAM Green. On April 22, please join us for an Earth Day Picnic at CAM Green, where you can explore the newly planted gardens.

On April 30 we open a glorious exhibition of large floral paintings by acclaimed artist Judi Rotenberg. Also on April 30 there’s a special Free Family Tour of Spring Flowers, exploring the Rotenberg exhibition and then providing the opportunity for families to create their own still lifes. 

This floral excitement will continue at the Museum on the weekend of May 14-15 with the return of CAM’s beloved display of Cape Ann Blossoms. Please join us then or at the ticketed Preview Celebration on May 13 to see how floral designers pair their creations with works of art in the galleries.

Looking forward to seeing you at the Museum soon!

With all best wishes, 

Oliver Barker, Director


The fascination with plants on Cape Ann stretches from wildflowers on a kitchen table to specimens being viewed with a microscope. Artists study and capture the beauty of trees, grasses and fungi, and botanists, both novice and expert, record and pass down information about flowers, ferns and kelp.

Begin celebrating the spirit of the season by revisiting one of our earliest issues of CAM Connects, “Welcoming Spring,” to look back at important lectures and exhibits held at the Museum, to learn about historical figures and celebrations, and to discover a spring-inspired CAM Kids art project to make at home. And then continue with today’s issue of CAM Connects which is all about botany and gardening, with articles about the history of botanical exploration, investigation, and practice on Cape Ann. 

Herbariums: A Growing Interest

(Left) A color plate of pink lady’s slippers from How to Know the Wild Flowers.
(Right) Red clover (scientific name Trifolium pratense) in Ethel Maddocks' 1891 Herbarium. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA. Gift of Nicki Richon-Schoel, 2021 [Acc. #2021.016].

Starting in the 1890s botany was becoming more popular, not just professionally and academically, but also as an amateur pursuit. The New England Botanical Club was founded in 1895 and soon began keeping a club herbarium, which is a systematically arranged collection of dried plants. Amateur botanists also began their own plant collecting, starting herbaria of their own with the aid of reference books and botany manuals for plant identification. This more systematic and scientific approach began what botanist Stuart Harris termed the “Golden Age of plant collecting,” and it aided in more specific identification of plant species in the decades that followed. 

While there were several botany manuals that may have been used for reference in the late 1800s, a book of note in the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives that may have been used by these amateur botanists is How to Know the Wild Flowers by Mrs. William Starr Dana, first published in 1893. Frances Starr Dana (later Frances Theodora Parsons) was a New York botanist and author living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who amassed an extensive knowledge of wildflowers while on her nature walks. The resulting book is a mix of scientific information along with poetry, illustrations, and her own personal reminiscences. How to Know the Wild Flowers was considered the first field guide to North American wildflowers and was a best-seller, going through several reprints. 

In 1891, a Cape Ann resident named Ethel Maddocks created an herbarium of a variety of flowering plants from around the Gloucester area that is now housed in the CAM Library & Archives. Many, if not most, of these pressed plants are still recognizable to plant enthusiasts even now. Some plants, like yellow adder’s tongue, common violet, and Solomon’s seal are wildflowers that are native to the area and still grow here. Other plants in her collection are originally from Europe or Asia, like red clover and irises, and can also still be found in the area.

For more examples of wildflowers from Maddocks’ Herbarium, along with illustrations from reference books in the CAM Library & Archives for comparison, continue reading here.


Elizabeth de Vicq (1905-1985), Mushroom Plate, 12 Specimens, c. late 1960s, watercolor on paper. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, MA. Gift of David C. de Vicq, 1989 [Acc. #2621.3].

Cape Ann is blessed, and has been blessed for generations, with a wealth of talented artists working in all sorts of media and exploring seemingly unending themes. There are very few, however, who viewed Cape Ann in the way that artist Elizabeth de Vicq did.

A one-time botany and mycology student at Wheaton College, Elizabeth de Vicq (1905-1985) spent years collecting mushroom, puff ball, and fungus specimens from around Cape Ann and using them to create delicate yet detailed watercolor paintings. The collection of the Cape Ann Museum includes eight “mushroom plates” created by de Vicq from the late 1960s into the ‘70s. They were generously gifted to the Museum by David de Vicq, the artist’s son. Each plate depicts between 8 and 13 different specimens. The artist’s original thought was to use the plates in a small book focusing on mushrooms that she hoped to publish with friends at the Boston Society of Mycologists. Unfortunately, the book was never realized.

One of artist Elizabeth de Vicq’s favorite places to scour for specimens was in Ravenswood Park, a 600-acre oasis located here in Gloucester that is managed by The Trustees of Reservations. If you would like to collect mushrooms like Elizabeth deVicq did, plan a visit to the park

Historic Gardens at CAM Green

Garden of the White-Ellery House, Gloucester, MA, c. 1890s. Photograph by Martha Hale Harvey. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA.

Historic gardens at the site of what is now the Cape Ann Museum Green focused on sustenance rather than aesthetics. Residents of both the White-Ellery House, occupied from 1710-1947, and the Babson-Alling House, occupied from the 1740s to 2019, used their gardens as an important food source. The picture above from the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives shows fertile fields, robust crops, and the ever-present New England fruit trees.

Traditional vegetables would have included onions, leeks, asparagus, beets, melons, squash, artichoke, beans, peas, spinach, corn, and much more. Medicinal and herbal gardens were also kept, featuring plants like chamomile, lavender, marjoram, sage, and rosemary. Many residents of Cape Ann still use these techniques today, growing lush gardens in the seven-month growing season that starts this month.

Garden beds prepared for the growing season in front of the Babson-Alling House, c. 1890s. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA. Gift of Elizabeth Alling, 1950 [Acc. #1445].

This year, the Museum is partnering with Backyard Growers to re-create gardens at the Cape Ann Museum Green. Two raised garden beds will be filled with soil and planted with historically accurate seeds by students during April Vacation Week from April 19-21, culminating in a community-wide Earth Day Picnic on Friday April 22 to unveil their work. The students will also discuss the traditional Native approach to planting known as the Three Sister’s Garden, where corn, beans, and squash are planted together in a single mound.

Herman Spooner’s Glass Plate Photographs of Greenery

(Left) Roses on the ledges of Barr Est. at Bass Rocks, July 1933.
(Right) Rhododendron and peony garden at Eastern Point, June 20, 1932. Photographs by Herman W. Spooner. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA.

CAM Connects readers may recognize the work of Herman W. Spooner (1870-1941) from past issues and as a member of the Cape Ann Camera Club. While he photographed a variety of subjects throughout the region, with spring's arrival we wanted to share some of his photographs from our collection of gardens, flowers, and greenery. Each of these images was taken on glass plates c. 1900 and the 1930s and are primarily of garden settings with ornamental flowers like irises, chrysanthemums, and lilies, as well as wildflowers such as the Magnolia virginiana “glauca” for which Magnolia is named. 

The glass plates dated c. 1900 are black and white and made using the wet plate collodion process, some having been hand tinted with oil or watercolor paints. These are commonly known as lantern slides. Those from the 1930s appear to have been made using an additive color screen process called Autochrome, which is one of the first successful color photographic processes. Photographs made with the Autochrome process are sometimes confused with lantern slides, but the evidence left behind from each process differs and can be a useful clue in distinguishing the two types. 

To see more of these photographs and to learn of Spooner's process, continue reading here. 

The Olmsted Landscape Legacy 

April 26, 2022 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, the master designer of public parks and a founder of the field of landscape architecture. On May 14th, historian and filmmaker Laurence Cotton, consulting producer to the PBS special “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America,” will present a CAMTalk on the remarkable life and career of the Renaissance-man Olmsted at the Cape Ann Museum. A writer, philosopher, social reformer, and advocate for the preservation of natural scenery, Olmsted created some of the most beautiful public and private parks and gardens in all of North America, including several in Essex County.

Crane Estate at Castle Hill. Images courtesy of the Trustees of the Reservation at the Crane Estate at Castle Hill.

One such example is the landscape of the Crane Estate at Castle Hill. Lawrence Cotton had the following to say about the property: 

Castle Hill is the centerpiece of the sprawling 2,100-acre Crane Estate, which is owned and managed by The Trustees of Reservations. The Great House, a 59-room Stuart-style mansion, presides over Castle Hill’s 165 acres of designed and natural landscapes with commanding panoramic views of the ocean. Its famous, rolling lawn – the Grand Alleé – stretches half a mile from the portico of the Great House to the bluffs which overlook Crane Beach.

In 1910 industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr. purchased the original 165-acre estate to serve as a summer retreat. He commissioned Charles Coolidge of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge to design the Italianate mansion. Crane also hired the Olmsted Brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, to design the landscaping. By 1912, they had fashioned a series of ornate terraced gardens. Two main gardens, the "Italian Garden" and the "Rose Garden," once contained ornate plantings, landscaped walkways and Italianesque fountains. 

Between 1913 and 1915 Arthur Shurcliff, who began his career with the Olmsted Bros. firm, designed the Grand Allée. Inspired by the Cypress Allée at the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Shurcliff’s design is an undulating strip of lawn, 160 feet wide, lined with Norway spruce, white pines and red cedar and edged by classically styled statuary. It crosses three hills on carefully graded land, which in combination with the evergreen edge focuses the view to the ocean.

To learn more about this landscape and many others designed by Olmsted in our region, join Cotton in his presentation on May 14th at 1pm. 

For more information and to register, click here.