The Chemist in the Garden: Origins of Natural Products

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An exhibition of books from the Mortimer Rare Book Room curated by Signe Dahlberg-Wright '14 in honor of Lâle Burk upon her retirement from the Department of Chemistry.

Skunk cabbage in William Barton’s Vegetable materia medica (1817-1818)

February 1 - May 27, 2013
Ford Hall Atrium Exhibit: The Chemist in the Garden
Feb. 8, 2012 Reception

Co-sponsored by the Mortimer Rare Book Room, the Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry,
and the Office of the Provost. For more information, contact: or (413) 585-2906.

“The Chemist in the Garden: Origins of Natural Products” is an exhibition showcasing botanical books from the Mortimer Rare Book Room that have particular significance to Lâle Burk, who is retiring in 2013 as a senior lecturer in the Chemistry Department at Smith College. The exhibition is on view in the Atrium of Ford Hall from February 1-May 27, 2013. “The Chemist in the Garden” was curated by Signe Dahlberg-Wright, class of 2014, who selected the books to be displayed and researched and wrote descriptive labels, aided by Burk and by Mortimer Rare Book Room staff.

Lâle Burk studied chemistry in her native Turkey. She received advanced degrees in chemistry from Smith College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and she has been a Smith Chemistry Department faculty member since 1972. The books on display reflect Burk’s special interest in the chemistry of natural products derived from plants, such as essential oils and perfumes. Items on display include Leonhart Fuchs’ 1549 Histoire des plantes, a field guide to plants with delicate hand-colored illustrations; John Gerard’s famous English Herball of 1636; a laboratory and equipment in Diderot’s monumental mid-18th-century French Encyclopédie; and Mark Catesby’s lavishly illustrated book on trees and shrubs of North America, published in London in 1767.

“The Chemist in the Garden” is an unusual departure for the Mortimer Rare Book Room, since these books are not on display in Neilson Library, but rather in Ford Hall, Smith’s newest sciences facility. Now students who spend more time in the laboratory than in the library can enjoy these visual treats in their own building. There will be a reception in Ford Hall in celebration of Lâle Burk and this exhibition on Friday afternoon, February 8.

Left: Hemlock in Jacob Bigelow’s American Medical Botany (1817-1820)

Right: Cannabis in Fuchs’ Histoire des plantes (1549) 


Left:Distillation furnace in Mattioli’s Commentarii in sex libros (1565)



Mortimer Rare Book Room
(413) 585-2906