Mary Emily Eaton (1873-1961) was one of the great botanical illustrators. Her mastery of light and shadow gave a wonderful depth to her detailed illustrations of cactus and other species.
Mary Emily Eaton (1873-1961) was the principal artist employed to illustrate Britton and Rose's The Cactaceae (1919-1923). She was born on 27 November 1873 in Coleford, Gloucestershire, England. After attending private schools in London, she received formal training in art at the Taunton School of Art in Somerset, England, which awarded her an "Art Class Tea Certificate" and an "Art Master's Certificate." She also studied art at the Royal College of Art in South Kensington, and at Chelsea Polytechnic, both in England.
Evidently Miss Eaton was employed for a period as a painter for Worcester porcelain. She then went in 1909 to Jamaica to visit a brother and sister. She remained there for two years, during which period she began to paint butterflies and moths showing great attention to detail. She left Jamaica in June 1911 to visit friends in New York and remained there as an artist employed by The New York Botanical Garden until January 1932 when she returned to her native England.
At The New York Botanical Garden she was the principal illustrator for the Garden's illustrated serial Addisonia (preparing over 80% of the 800 plates) and she did the vast majority of paintings and line drawings used to illustrate Britton and Rose's The Cactaceae (1919-1923). Other scientific illustrations published while she was in New York may be found in the National Geographic Magazine and in the Contributions from the U.S. National Herbarium.
Among Miss Eaton's honors, was the receipt in 1922 of the silver-gilt Grenfelt Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society, London. Her art work is now in the permanent collections of the National Geographic Society (over 600 botanical watercolors), The New York Botanical Garden, and the Smithsonian Institution (most of the originals of Britton & Rose's The Cactaceae). The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation also has a few examples of her work, as well as plates on indefinite loan from the Smithsonian.
Miss Eaton died in Cossington, Somerset, England on 4 August 1961.
Image of The Cactaceae Vol III, plate XVII provided by Daniel Schweich