Obituary: Nancy Adams

By Arnold Pickmere

* Nancy Adams, CBE, QSO. Botanist and artist. Died aged 80.

Some time in the war year of 1942, a 16-year-old Wellington girl joined the botany division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in Wellington, mainly, it is said, because she could name all the trees outside the director's window.

For 50 or more years Miss Nancy Adams was one of New Zealand's foremost botanists and botanical artists. She became widely recognised for exquisite drawings and watercolours, noted for their precision and accuracy. Appearing in numerous co-authored books, they pleased trampers, professional botanists and teachers alike. Many New Zealand homes must still contain examples of her work.

Her range of subject was enormous, from her own 1994 award-winning Seaweeds of New Zealand (describing 600 species and illustrating 441) to alpine plants, New Zealand trees and shrubs and everything in between.

Educated at Wellington Girls' College, she studied botany and zoology at Victoria University. She joined the National Museum (now Te Papa) in 1959 as assistant curator of botany and was also a curator of algae.

Her botanical illustrations demonstrated the particular skill of showing all the distinguishing features of a plant in a natural way, something hard to achieve with photography.

Notes for a major exhibition ofher work, which toured 16 centres around New Zealand between 2003and 2006, record that some of her illustrations were so convincing that a neighbour once asked her how she stuck the plants to the page.

When approached about this exhibition, which aimed to show her original work which reproductions in books did not always do justice to, Nancy Adams was inclined to doubt in her shy, self-effacing manner that people would be interested.

And so this artist, who had illustrations in nearly 40 books, was quite pleased that the exhibition's popularity saw it shown at almost double the original nine planned venues.

Nancy Adams was made a companion of the Queen's Service Order in 1989 and a CBE for services to botany in 1995.

She retired in 1987, giving her more time to indulge in recreations listed in her entry in Who's Who in New Zealand as "gardening, painting, drawing".

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