Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863) explores the confluence of art, love, science, and religion in the extraordinary art of Orra White Hitchcock, one of America’s first female scientific illustrators. Her marriage in 1821 to Amherst College professor Edward Hitchcock cemented a years-long friendship and collaboration based on a bedrock of faith and science, mutual respect, close observation, and mental capacity for the largest of ideas.
Orra White exhibited a prodigious scientific mind and abundant artistic talent at an early age. The exhibition traces her development from schoolgirl projects to highly accomplished renderings of the natural scenery of the Connecticut River Valley used in her husband’s many geology publications. Less well known are colorful paintings on cotton—some more than twelve feet long—that were used to illustrate her husband’s many college lectures on geology, botany, zoology, and anatomy. In these, Orra White Hitchcock communicated complex scientific principles in abstract visual terms that now appear gorgeously fresh and modern.
Archival letters, manuscripts, diaries, and albums place Edward and Orra White Hitchcock in the very heart of international scientific inquiry. In the early years of the nineteenth century, when the natural world was a place of wonder, Edward Hitchcock, theologian and scientist, saw the interconnectedness of God’s created world, and Orra White Hitchcock made it manifest through her art for all to comprehend and marvel.