I discovered a display of William Henry Prestele’s botanical watercolors a couple years ago at the South Buffalo Botanical Gardens, at Easter time. The details of his botanical plates amazed me, and the richness of color and detail were exquisite. I was surprised to learn they were hand painted watercolors by William Prestele who had grown up in Ebenezer, NY, in the 1800’s.
I was intrigued because I enjoy painting in watercolors and decided to investigate the watercolor artist to find out more. William Henry Prestele born October 13, 1838 in Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany. His family immigrated first to Ebenezer, NY. William learned his art most likely from his father who was also a botanical artist in Germany. His family were members of the True Inspirationists, a German communal society that emphasized individual piety and humility within a brotherhood of believers. In search of religious and economic freedom, members of the society began to immigrate to the United States in 1843, settling in Ebenezer, New York. By 1845 the community elders gave his father Joseph permission to pursue the same type of work he had done in Germany, illustrating important works by European botanists. Skilled in botany, painting, and the German lithographic technique of engraving on stone, Joseph began to produce work of aesthetic and scientific value for leading 19th-century American botanists such as Asa Gray (1810–1888) and John Torrey (1796–1873) and for the Smithsonian Institution. By the early 1850s he and his sons were among the first to produce fruit and flower plates for nurseries and horticulturists.
We have to remember William Prestele’s art work of fruit and botanicals were created before the camera was invented. At this time nursery owners hired watercolorist to draw and paint what they grew for advertising purposes to be reproduced as lithographs and made into cards and seed envelopes to promote new varieties of plants. In the 1850s the nursery industry grew and these businesses needed and saw the value in colorful nursery plates- wildly colored images of trees, fruits, and flowers- which were used to advertise and expand the nursery business.
William Henry followed his elder brother to New York by 1858, served in the Civil War, and worked for F. K. Phoenix in Bloomington, Illinois, from 1867 to the early 1870s, where he supervised the production of fruit and flower plates. William Henry eventually started his own nursery plate business, and by 1887 he was the first artist employed by the newly formed Pomological Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in Washington, D.C. There he, and eventually other artists, illustrated many new varieties. Today these works by Joseph Prestele and his sons are an important record of the rich horticultural history of 19th-century America.
Nonetheless, William Henry Prestele added to the appreciation of art and nature in the lives of those around them with these beautiful detailed watercolors of apples, pears, grapes, berries.
I’m glad I researched William H.Prestele and learned about the history behind his work and understand his detailed watercolors. His work inspired me to try and create a collection of watercolors of the wonderful fruits and vegetables that are available in the Western New York region.
Lisa Engelbert Berton, Grew up in Ebenezer, NY. Lisa received her BS in Art Education from Buffalo State College where she is a now a Graduate Student in Multidisciplinary Studies. She is concentrating her graduate work in Painting and Art Education. Presently Lisa is a substitute teacher in Lancaster and Depew School Districts. She is hoping to become a full time art teacher, and share her love of art with her students.
Bibliography for Willliam Henry Prestele Watercolorist, Botanicals
Book: “Drawn From Nature”: The Botanical Art of Joseph Prestele and His Sons by Charles van Ravenswaay , Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 1984, ISBN 0-87474-938-http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Prestele-26
USDA : http://specialcollections.nal.usda.gov/guide-collections/wilhelm-heinrich-william-henry-prestele-papers
Google Images of William Prestele’www.google.com/search?q=Wm+Henry+prestele&client=firefox-a&hs=duf&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=a7CUUsLTKonKsQTe34KoAQ&ved=0CEoQsAQ&biw=1006&bih=456
Iowa State Library : http://www.add.lib.iastate.edu/spcl/manuscripts/MS070.html
Booth 3540 A source for old and inexpensive etchings, woodcuts, lithographs, maps and book illustrations. http://www.booth3540.com/search-results-by-a-particular-artist.php?artistlast=Prestele&limitstart=0&label=William%20Henry%20Prestele
The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation
1). The Bulletin, Volume 17, No. 2, Fall 2005