IF YOU GO

What: Ora M. Clark exhibit

When: Sept. 1 to Oct. 31

Where: Riverside Nature Center off of Browning Parkway

More info: 505-599-1422

FARMINGTON — Not much is known about former Aztec High School teacher and botanical illustrator Ora M. Clark.

A single grainy reproduction of a yearbook photo and thousands of his illustrations are all that is left.

Starting Sunday, some of those illustrations will be on display at the Riverside Nature Center in Farmington.

Ora M. Clark’s only known portrait on display, Aug. 28, 2013 at the Riverside Nature Center in Farmington.
Ora M. Clark's only known portrait on display, Aug. 28, 2013 at the Riverside Nature Center in Farmington. (The Daily Times)

The Farmington Museum System, which includes the Riverside Nature Center, received the illustrations as a donation after Clark's death.

"We were given this nice collection of his illustrations," said Donna Thatcher, Riverside Nature Center's education specialist.

Over the last few years, the museum has been framing the art.

The majority of Clark's illustrations are housed at the University of New Mexico, where his wife donated them following his death in the 1952.

Clark taught at an Oklahoma college and then later, from 1946 to 1952, at Aztec High School during the school year. In the summer, he traveled and drew the plants he saw.

This isn't the first time Clark's work will be featured at the nature center. In 2011, the center displayed his cactus illustrations. But the museum system didn't have the money to frame all of the drawings. Since then, the museum has framed the rest of the art. And starting on Sunday, nearly all of the drawings will be on display.

"Botanical illustration is sort of a field of art in itself," Thatcher said.

Botanical illustrations by Ora M. Clark on display, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 at the Riverside Nature Center in Farmington.
Botanical illustrations by Ora M. Clark on display, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 at the Riverside Nature Center in Farmington. (The Daily Times)

One of the challenges of botanical illustration is "trying to depict the parts of the plant accurately and at the same time have a sense of artistry," according to long-time botanical illustrator Linda Mary Reeves, who helped Thatcher frame Clark's collection. Reeves taught at San Juan College and is currently working on a book of flora from the Four Corners area.

Reeves started illustrating in the 1980s when her husband needed fern illustrations for his scientific paper.

Over time, she took classes at the New York Botanical Garden and at Harvard University. Then, when steam pipes broke and destroyed the illustrations for a fellow biologist's book, Reeves stepped up to recreate the images.

"I was in the right place at the right time," Reeves said.

After that, she was hooked on botanical illustrating.

Since Clark's death, botanical illustration has grown into a larger, more competitive field, Reeves said. Illustrations are even becoming popular art forms for people to hang on their walls, she said.

Briefly, botanists used photographs instead of botanical illustrations. But they quickly learned that the photographs couldn't capture the small details needed to identify the plants. Reeves said plants like orchids are extremely complex, and the illustrations can more deftly point out those intricate details.

Being an orchid expert, one of Reeves' favorite illustrations by Clark is a fairy slipper, which grows in the Chuska Mountains at about 8,500 feet.

The orchid is pink. Its lip -- a modified petal -- is yellow with pink and white stripes.

"They smell like lilacs," Reeves said.

She said Clark wasn't connected to the larger botanical illustrating community. Rather, she believes he did it because he loved it.

"He must have been just really dedicated to it," Reeves said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.