Nature's Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir's Botanical Legacy

Jan 9 - March 27, 2011

Nature's Beloved Son:

Rediscovering John Muir's Botanical Legacy

Jan 9 - March 27, 2011

John Muir was a botanist throughout his life and his fondness for the nature and beauty of plants contributed significantly to his understanding of the need to preserve wilderness. Yet this aspect of the well-known conservationist’s passions is little known. In the spirit which John Muir embraced the botanical world, the traveling exhibition Nature’s Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir’s Botanical Legacy traces his travels to Canada, Indiana, the American southeast, California, and Alaska, and presents vivid images and specimens of the actual plants that Muir held in his hands, carried in his pockets, and preserved for all time.

Several hundred of these plant specimens were scanned at herbaria throughout North America and digitally enhanced by Pleasant Hill photographer Stephen J. Joseph and studied under the direction of Muir scholar and curator Bonnie Gisel. Having collaborated to create an exquisite and informative book published by Heyday Books (2008) they now pour their talents into this traveling exhibition. 

The Bedford Gallery was selected as the opening venue for this international tour because of its prominence in Contra Costa County as the premier art gallery. Contra Costa County is significant to the story of John Muir’s life as he lived in the Alhambra Valley in Martinez on the family ranch from 1890 until his death in 1914.

About the Exhibition

Nature’s Beloved Son includes high-resolution images of Muir’s plant specimens on large format canvas and paper prints, allowing the exploration of the structures, patterns, and anatomies of the plant world. Historic images, pages and drawings from Muir’s journals set the context for his plant collecting and a set of original plant specimens shows visitors the real thing. To further inspire, the exhibition includes several quotes from Muir about his fascination with nature and devotion to plants. A film shown in the gallery and narrated by the curator and Muir re-enactor Frank Helling, features additional plant specimens and historic images.

Nature’s Beloved Son is traveling to museums, botanical gardens, and parks throughout North America and will appeal to a wide range of visitors including people interested in botany, history, ecology, environmentalism, John Muir himself, the history of science, and art. Gardeners, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts will also enjoy this unique collection of botanicals. Through the beauty of botany visitors are asked how nature might inspire them as it did John Muir so profoundly and reflect on the status of the biodiversity of plants in today’s world.

Exhibition Support

Nature’s Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir’s Botanical Legacy is produced and toured by the California Exhibition Resources Alliance (CERA) in partnership with Bonnie Gisel, Stephen J. Joseph, Heyday Books, and the Bedford Gallery. This exhibition was supported by the Skirball Foundation and private donors.  Students and faculty from the University of California, Davis Design School and Design Museum designed the exhibition.