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Natalie Harlan Davis: Home

Natalie Harlan Davis- Artist & Illustrator

Natalie Harlan Davis, Hunt Botanical Institute,1968

Image: Natalie Harlan Davis, Hunt Botanical Institute, 1968


A Pennsylvania native, born January 11,1898, Natalie Harlan Davis began her art training attending the first art school and museum in the United States, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She also attended the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art where she received her certification in Industrial Arts. After completing her schooling, she began her career freelancing in New York, specializing in horticulture books and magazines. By the late 1930s, Davis embarked on a new venture at the New York Botanical Garden.


Featured in the Natural History journal, Davis assisted NYBG’s horticulturist and educator, Thomas H. Everett with his scholarly article, “Your Indoor Desert Garden”, accompanying his scientific findings with pictorial descriptions. March 1943, Davis' illustrative cursive words “Victory Garden Issue” graced the front cover of the Journal of the New York Botanical Garden. Two years later, along with other artists and illustrators, Davis worked with NYBG’s Assistant Director and Curator, Dr. Henry A. Gleason on the updated edition of Britton and Brown's “Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern States”.

Natalie Harlan Davis Journal Features- Natural History and New York Botanical Garden

Image Courtesy of BHL: Natalie Harlan Davis Journal Features- Natural History, 1938 (left) and New York Botanical Garden, 1943 (right)

Her best known work at the Garden was illustrating the “Guide to the Native Plant Garden” (1967), by Elizabeth P. Corning. Davis cover artwork and drawings beautifully illustrated ferns, trees, shrubs and wetland plants found in the New York Botanical Garden’s Native Plant Garden. Written to help visitors gain botanical knowledge and identify plants while touring the Native Plant Garden, this guidebook is currently available at the Mertz Library. Housed in both the General and Circulating collection, the library also holds the original artwork by Davis.

On the original artwork, the bold, black letters read, “The Native Plant Garden” with leafy green plants and ornamental florals on the corners of the bristol board. A closer look at the painting, one can still see Davis pencil markings before coated with paint. Using her expertise of watercolor painting, a total of seven paintings in the Natalie Davis Botanical Art Collection were created for Corning’s guidebook and all are signed with her signature “Natalie H. Davis”.

Original Cover ArtWork, Natalie Harlan Davis- Guide to the Native Plant Garden

Image: Guide to the Native Plant Garden original cover artwork by Natalie Harlan Davis with signature (Left), Davis Pencil Markings on Bristol Board (Right)


Davis' artistic abilities exceeded the horticulture field. Prior to working with the Garden staff, she worked with civil rights activist, women’s suffragist and cofounder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP ), Mary White Ovington. Davis illustrated Ovington’s African American literature text, Zeke (1931), a children’s book based on the life and education of a Southern boy named Zeke. Davis' specialty in line work reinterpreted the author's words, bringing the characters to life- an important aspect of storytelling.

Mary Ovington's Zeke Book Cover- illustrator Natalie Harlan Davis

Image Courtesy of Internet Archive: Mary White Ovington's Zeke, illustrations by Natalie Harlan Davis

Assigned the Scientific Artist at the University of Illinois in 1956 and NYBG’s Botanical Artist between 1965-1968, Natalie Harlan Davis work has spanned decades. Represented in exhibitions across Philadelphia and New York, Davis' usage of textures, her signature linework, and watercolor techniques, emphasizes her desire to paint and illustrate timeless art pieces for many to enjoy. Though listed as an overlooked female artist, her work inspires botanical artists enthusiasts to explore plant structure and contemporary artists to examine the abstracts and transformation of lines - making Davis remarkable contributions to the art world evident.  

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