Emma Roberts (1859-1948) a botanical artist, was the younger sister of Thomas Sadler Roberts, the first director of University of Minnesota Bell Museum. The Andersen Horticultural Library holds a collection of her original artwork created between 1880 and 1900, which can be viewed by appointment.
UMedia hosts a digital collection consisting of scans of Emma Roberts' wildflower watercolors found at the Andersen Horticultural Library.
Emma Roberts' family moved to Minneapolis in 1867, where Emma and her brothers grew up. During their family forays into the natural areas around Minneapolis, Emma became interested in wildflowers, and one of her brothers, Thomas Sadler Roberts, focused his interest upon birds.
As a young woman, Emma trained as a watercolor botanical artist, studying in New York during 1892 and 1893. After returning to Minneapolis, she became Assistant Director of Drawing for the Minneapolis Public Schools, and later the Director in 1904. Emma developed an art-appreciation curriculum for Minneapolis Public Schools and founded the Handicraft Guild of Minneapolis. The Handicraft Guild had as its mission "[to] give authoritative instruction in design and its solution in terms of materials; also to furnish complete training for students desirous of becoming Craftsmen, Designers and Teachers." (Conforti, Michael (June 1994). Art and Life on the Upper Mississippi 1890-1915: Minnesota 1900 (The Ameridan Arts). University of Delaware Press. p. 333.
Watercolor wildflower portfolio of Emma Roberts and Agnes Williams
During Christmas 1893, Emma presented her brother, Thomas Sadler Roberts with the gift of 40 original Minnesota wildflower paintings. Thomas, attending the University of Pennsylvania at the time, was impressed and showed the paintings to a friend, Agnes Williams, also a botanical artist. Agnes volunteered to contribute some of her own work to Thomas's collection.
Both women continued to add to Thomas's collection. Emma continued to paint Minnesota wildflowers during 1884 and 1885, while at the same time, hundreds of miles away, Agnes Williams was painting wildflowers in Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Jersey, and other states. The collection returned to Minneapolis with Thomas Sadler Roberts when he set up general medical practice.
Some of the Emma Roberts wildflower painting were displayed on the main floor of the Minnesota Building at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 held in Chicago, Illinois. Later some were on display at the Minneapolis Public Library. Eventually the whole portfolio of Emma Robert's work and Agnes William's was donated by Thomas Sadler Roberts to the Museum of Natural History (Bell Museum) at the University of Minnesota, where he served as the first director.
During the 1990s, the small natural history library on the 3rd floor of the Bell Museum closed, and the Emma Roberts/Agnes Williams portfolio of original watercolors were moved to the Andersen Horticultural Library. The collection includes 111 paintings by Emma Roberts dated from 1882 to 1888, and 170 items by Agnes Williams mostly from 1880s and 1890s.
Sue Leaf, A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts (Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press, 2013)
Sue Leaf, "A Tale of Two Women: The Wildflower Portfolio," Minnesota History v.64:no.7 (2015:Fall) p.277-291
Sue Leaf, "A Tale of Two Siblings," Minnesota History v.63 (Summer 2013) p.236-238