Maria Martin, Naturalist and Artist, Born (1796)

Everyone knows that John James Audubon was a great early naturalist and artist, painting the birds of America in the mid-1800s.  Everyone should also know the name of one of his colleagues, a pioneering naturalist and artist in her own right—Maria Martin Bachman.

Maria Martin

            Maria Martin was born on July 6, 1796, in Charleston, South Carolina (died 1863).  Her family was wealthy, affording her the opportunity for a fine education in languages, the arts and natural science.  When she was 31, she moved into the home of her sister, who was in poor health, and her brother-in-law, the reverend John Bachman (many years later, after her sister died, Martin married John Bachman; hence, sometimes she is referred to as Maria Martin Bachman).  John Bachman was also a naturalist and a close friend of Audubon, who often visited Charleston and stayed at the Bachman home.

            Martin’s interest in the natural world grew along with her association with Bachman and Audubon.  When Audubon saw her drawings of birds, insects and plants during a visit in 1831, he invited Martin to begin painting for him.  He tutored her in painting, sharing techniques for painting and for posing birds and other objects.  Eventually, she became one of Audubon’s three chief assistants, painting the plant backgrounds and insect details for 18 of the plates in his famous four-volume Birds of America (learn more about Audubon here).

Maria Martin painted the plants in this Audubon painting of Bachman’s Warbler, now extinct and named for her husband.

            Like Audubon, she painted mostly from nature, observing plants in the gardens of her friends and fellow naturalists in Charleston. Her extensive study of nature was responsible for the renowned scientific accuracy of her paintings, but her watercolors also revealed a deep artistic sensitivity, the color and composition enhancing an illustration’s impact.  Audubon wrote that “Miss Martin with her superior talents, assists us greatly in the way of drawing; the insects she has drawn are, perhaps, the best I’ve seen.”  Some historians suggest that Martin may have even painted a few birds for Audubon’s books (although later “touched up” by Audubon).

            Martin went on to illustrate and edit other pioneering taxonomic texts.  She prepared drawings of reptiles and backgrounds for John Edwards Holbrook’s North American Herpetology.  She served as editor, co-author and illustrator for John Bachman’s natural science and religious writings.  She joined Audubon and John Bachman by editing the text and painting backgrounds for much of their three-volume work, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.  

One of the few works atributed to Maria Martin, painting of the scarlet kingsnake

            As was the case for most women in the early 19th Century, Martin’s work was generally not signed or acknowledged.  Audubon, however, thought so much of her that he named a bird, Maria’s Woodpecker, in her honor (unfortunately, now a subspecies of the Hairy Woodpecker).  Perhaps we should allow Audubon’s words to reflect on a century of women and their contributions to conservation:  “I feel bound to make some ornithological acknowledgment for the aid she has on several occasions afforded me in embellishing my drawings of birds, by adding to them beautiful and correct representations of plants and flowers.”

References:

Audubon.  John J. Audubon’s Birds of America.  Plate 417, Maria’s Woodpecker et al.  Available at:  https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/marias-woodpecker-three-toed-woodpecker-phillips-woodpecker-canadian-woodpecker.  Accessed March 17, 2020.

Charleston County Public Library.  Maria Martin Bachman.  Available at:  http://sites.slicker.com/ccpl/content.asp?id=15539&action=detail&catID=6013&parentID=5746. Accessed March 17, 2020.

History of American Women.  Maria Martin Bachman.  Available at:  http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2016/02/maria-martin-bachman.html. Accessed March 17, 2020.

Sierra College.  Maria Martin Bachman.  Journal of the Sierra College Natural History Museum.  Available at:  https://www.sierracollege.edu/ejournals/jscnhm/v6n1/martin.html. Accessed March 17, 2020.

South Carolina Encyclopedia.  Martin, Maria.  Available at:  http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/martin-maria/.  Accessed March 17, 2020.

Staake, Jill.  2015.  Setting the Scene for Audubon’s Birds:  Maria Martin Bachman.  Birds & Blooms, November 3, 2015.  Available at:  http://www.birdsandblooms.com/blog/setting-the-scene-for-audubons-birds-maria-martin-bachman/.  Accessed March 17, 2020.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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