Patricia Eckel: Award Winning Floral Artist


(This 936th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on March 1, 2009.)



Eckel watercolor of a rare Rocky Mountain moss that served

as frontispiece for Volume 27 of the Flora of North America


Once many years ago when, as a math supervisor, I was visiting a first grade classroom, the children were just finishing an art lesson and the teacher suggested that I might want to see what they were drawing. The children had been finger painting. For most kids that age finger painting is a euphemism for smearing. The children had indeed smeared broad outlines of houses with bright yellow suns against blue skies overhead and green below.


But then I came to one little girl whose 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 the teacher if this child had received special training. "Oh, no," the teacher responded. "Everything she does of this quality and with no help from her parents or me."


I thought of that talented child when I learned recently that my friend Pat Eckel had won an international prize for her artwork. The award release text read in part: "The Linnaean Society of London announced that the Jill Smythies Award for Botanical Illustration will go to Patricia M. Eckel, of the Bryology Group, 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 characteristics. 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 website 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."


Before I continue, I had better disentangle that technical language. The bryophytes are mosses and related seedless green land plants that live in generally moist environments.


Please understand, although Pat Eckel enjoys artistic gifts like those of that remarkable first grade child, her quality does not stop there. She is a highly trained scientist as well. She was awarded an undergraduate degree cum laude from the University at Buffalo in both Art History and Greek and Latin Classics and her Latin studies led her to prepare a manual of botanical Latin as part of her master's degree work also at the university.


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, when as part of the exodus of science talent from the museum, the couple left for the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis where they continue today.


Eckel retains her connections with western New York, however. 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 but it may still be accessed on the web. Eckel has also been editing the papers of George William Clinton, son of Governor 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.


The accompanying painting is of a rare moss, mats of which are found only in western Montana and Idaho in moist valley-bottom or piedmont forests dominated by Douglas fir. The moss is so uncommon that it is most often referred to by its Latin name and only occasionally as Britton's dry rock moss. The only illustration is Eckel's and it accompanies the moss's description on the Flora of North America website.


I join the British Linnaean Society in saluting this fine scientist.-- Gerry Rising