Fake Drawing Has Real Value for Arnold Arboretum

 A watercolor map of the Arnold Arboretum.
Plan of the Arnold Arboretum / The Museum of Trees of Harvard University, 1904. Watercolor and graphite pencil drawing on wove paper by landscape architect Guy Lowell.  

by Christopher Sokolowski, Paper Conservator, Weissman Preservation Center 

Spring brought a successful conclusion of a preservation project reframing a watercolor drawing of the Arnold Arboretum with an inkjet facsimile. The original watercolor, nearly six feet wide, was drawn by Boston architect Guy Lowell (1870-1927) for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. Since its return from St. Louis some 117 years ago, it has probably been on continuous display in the Arboretum’s Horticultural Library and Archives. With the sesquicentennial of the Arboretum fast approaching, Head of the Library and Archives Lisa Pearson was keen to have this important watercolor digitized so its image could be used for both research and publicity. 

The watercolor drawing was slumping down in its circa 1900 Arts and Crafts-style oak frame and needed to be removed from the frame to be digitized properly. Thus began a careful job of unframing and packing, so that the watercolor could be surface cleaned and minor repairs completed at the Weissman Preservation Center before it was delivered to the photographers of Harvard Library’s Imaging Services in Widener Library.  

The undertaking was also seen as an opportunity to protect the watercolor hereafter from continual exposure to light and other hazards by storing it in a reinforced archival folder. In its place, an actual-size facsimile of the plan was printed and checked for color fidelity to the original. The frame also received attention to areas marred by a water leak long ago and the hanging hardware was upgraded. Once set into the old frame with its original wavy glass, the facsimile is virtually indistinguishable from the original and will continue to provide both period charm and an informative bird’s eye view of Harvard’s famous “museum of trees.” 

 A man cleaning the glass on a large, framed map.
The new facsimile of the Arboretum plan in the old frame and almost ready to hang. 


 A man leaning over a large, watercolor map with some colored pencils.
Christopher working on the original plan at the Weissman Preservation Center.  


A close-up of a title and key on a watercolor map.
A close-up of the title and key of the original plan. 

See also: Conservation