Many years ago as a math supervisor, I was visiting a first grade classroom. The children were finishing an art lesson and the teacher suggested I look at their drawings. The children had been finger painting. For most kids that age, finger painting is a euphemism for smearing. Many had smeared broad outlines of houses with bright yellow suns against blue skies overhead and green below.
But one girl's drawing was from a different world. Her painting, still done with her tiny fingers, was of a vine, its delicate stem winding across her page and each leaf perfect in its detail. I asked if this child had received special training? "Oh, no," the teacher responded. "Everything she does is of this quality, with no help from her parents or me."
I thought of that talented child when I learned that my friend Pat Eckel had won an international prize for her artwork. An excerpt from the award reads: "The Linnaean Society of London announced that the Jill Smythies Award for Botanical Illustration will go to Patricia M. Eckel of the Bryology Group at Missouri Botanical Garden. The award is given to a botanical artist for excellence in published illustrations in aid of plant identification, with the emphasis on botanical accuracy and the accurate portrayal of diagnostic characteristic. Eckel specializes in bryological artwork, and she recently completed illustrations for Volume 27 of the 'Flora of North America,' published by Oxford University Press. She is also a bryologist with many publications (including the mosses of Wyoming), the Botanical Latin Editor for three professional journals, and maintains a Web site describing the vascular flora and plant history of the Niagara Falls area. The award, which comes with a purse and silver medal, will be given to her in a ceremony in London."
In disentangling the technical language, let me explain that bryophytes are mosses and related seedless green land plants that live in generally moist environments.
Although Eckel enjoys artistic gifts like those of that remarkable first grade child, her quality does not stop there. She is also a highly trained scientist. She was awarded a cum laude bachelor's degree from the University at Buffalo in both art history and Greek and Latin Classics. Her Latin studies led her to prepare a manual of botanical Latin as part of her master's degree work at UB.
Eckel's credentials are extensive. She contributed to the Smithsonian Institution, is a Fellow of the Explorer's Club and was a founding member and treasurer of the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society. Her artwork has adorned dozens of articles, books and exhibits. She has logged thousands of miles of fieldwork in the Rockies, the southwest, the Middle Atlantic states, Canada, Mexico and Ecuador.
Eckel married botanist Richard Zander and together they headed the Clinton Herbarium at the Buffalo Museum of Science until 2002. As part of the exodus of science talent that year from the museum, the couple left for the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, where they continue today.
Eckel still retains her connections with Western New York. She continues to monitor the botany of the region and her monograph, "MADCapHorse," is a continually revised checklist to the wildflowers of the Niagara Frontier Region. This compilation was recently published by the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society and may also be accessed on the Web.
Eckel has been editing the papers of George William Clinton, son of Gov. DeWitt Clinton. George Clinton was a New York Supreme Court judge and amateur botanist who joined other local attorneys in the 1860s to create the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. I join the British Society in saluting this fine scientist.