Orra White Hitchcock, Colossal Octopus (After Pierre Denys de Montfort), ca. 1828–40, pen ink and watercolor on cotton, 27 7⁄8 × 21".

Orra White Hitchcock

American Folk Art Museum

The American illustrator Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863) was born, lived, worked, and died in and around Amherst, Massachusetts. She probably left the area only a handful of times. On the few occasions I stumbled, speechless, through this utterly germane celebration of her life and work, I wondered if that ability to stay in one place for so long had something, or everything, to do with her keen and pragmatic understanding of the synthesis between nature and the divine.

Hitchcock’s prolonged sense of ecological time sang out strongly, providing a sharp reminder that it’s the already documented, harrowing shifts in the long haul of climate change (and not some mysterious inconsistency of today’s weather, Mr. Trump) that are our era’s greatest disgrace. She is now known as one of the foremost scientific artists of her day, and she was also married to a leading geologist, Edward Hitchcock.

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