You Can Now Download 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit In The World In High Resolution

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In the opening stanzas of his Choruses from the Rock, T.S. Eliot asks: “where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

You Can Now Download 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit In The World In High Resolution

In the opening stanzas of his Choruses from the Rock, T.S. Eliot asks: “where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” This passage has been called a pointed question for our time; we seem to have lost the ability to learn, to make meaningful connections and contextualize events. They fly by us at superhuman speeds, while credible sources are buried between spurious links. Truth and falsehood blur beyond distinction.


However, there is another feature of the 21st-century too-often unremarked upon, one made possible only by the rapid spread of information technology. Vast digital archives of primary sources open up to ordinary users, archives once available only to historians, promising , at least, the possibility of a far more egalitarian spread of both information and knowledge.


These archives include the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection, more than “7,500 paintings, drawings, and wax models commissioned by the USDA between 1886 and 1942,” according to Chloe Olewitz at Morsel. The word “pomology,” which means “the science and practice of growing fruit,” first appeared in 1818. The degree to which people depended on fruit trees and fruit stores made it a notably popular science, as was so much agriculture at the time.


However, pomology was growing from a domestic science into an industrial one, adopted by “farmers across the United States,” writes Olewitz, that “worked with the USDA to set up orchards to serve emerging markets” as “the country’s most prolific fruit-producing regions began to take shape.”


Before and even long after photography could do the job, which meant employing the talents of about 65 American artists to “document the thousands and thousands of varieties of heirloom and experimental fruit cultivars sprouting up nationwide.” The USDA made the full collection public after Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in 2015.


Access to the USDA pictures was limited, “with high-resolution versions hidden behind a largely untouched paywall.” After they invested $300,000, they'd made $600 in fees in five years, a losing proposition which would better serve the public, the scholarly community, and those working in-between if it became freely available.


You can explore this tantalizing collection of fruit watercolors, varying in quality from the near sublime to the workmanlike, and from unsung artists like James Marion Shull, that sketched the Cuban pineapple above, Ellen Isham Schutt, that brings us the Aegle marmelos, commonly called “bael” in India, further up, and Deborah Griscom Passmore, whose 1899 Malus domesticus, at the top, describes an American pomological archetype.


It is easy to see how Higgins could become engrossed in the collection. Its utilitarian purpose belies its beauty, and with 3,800 pictures of apples alone, one could get lost taking in the visual nuances of one fruit alone. Of course, Higgins created a Twitter bot to send out random images from the archive, an entertaining distraction and also, for people inclined to seek it out, a lure to the full USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection.


At what point does an exploration of those photos tip from information into knowledge? It is hard to say, but it is unlikely we would pursue either one if that pursuit did not also include its share of pleasure. Enter the USDA's Pomological Watercolor Collection here to new and download more than 7,500 high-resolution digital images like those above.


You Can Now Download 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit In The World In High Resolution

You Can Now Download 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit In The World In High Resolution

You Can Now Download 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit In The World In High Resolution

You Can Now Download 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit In The World In High Resolution

You Can Now Download 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit In The World In High Resolution

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Thinking Humanity: You Can Now Download 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit In The World In High Resolution
You Can Now Download 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit In The World In High Resolution
In the opening stanzas of his Choruses from the Rock, T.S. Eliot asks: “where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
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