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The Valentien Project

Almost 100 years ago, the artist, Albert Valentien began a project that was ten years in the execution. He began his work in 1908, when he was commissioned by Ellen Browning Scripps to paint the wildflowers of California, and the plan was to publish a book of the paintings when he finished. However, in the end Miss Scripps decided the cost was too prohibitive and Valentien's hope of seeing his work reproduced and admired by a large audience was dashed.

In 2000, thanks to the commitment and wonderful generosity of Eleanor and Jerome Navarra, the Valentien Project, which would entail photographing, conserving, cataloging, and eventually exhibiting the collection, began. The exhibition that resulted, Plant Portraits: the California Legacy of A. R. Valentien, opened at the Museum in 2003 and toured nationally.

The Valentien watercolor collection has been a treasured part of the Museum's holdings since 1933, when they were donated to the Museum Library from Miss Scripps' estate. Through all these years, the collection has been seen by only a few fortunate people, who longed to share the breathtaking freshness and liveliness of these "plant portraits," as Mr. Valentien called them, with the public.

The exhibition premiered at the San Diego Natural History Museum in December 2003, and was curated by Library Director Margaret Dykens.  The show toured throughout the United States from 2005 to 2009.  Fine art reproductions and products based on the Valentien images have been created, and a Teacher's Guide developed.

The A.R. Valentien Collection

Hear Margaret “Margi” Dykens, director of the Research Library, talk about her background at the Museum and the significance of the A.R. Valentien collection. The Museum owns the entire collection of original paintings—all 1,094—depicting native plants of California, which were commissioned by Ellen Browning Scripps in 1908, painted between 1908 and 1918, and donated to the Museum in 1933. An exhibition featuring the original watercolors by A.R. Valentien will be included in a light- and climate-controlled gallery in the renovated Library come early summer 2016. This is the first time the paintings will be on permanent display in the Museum; approximately 10 will be featured at one time and they will be rotated seasonally. More about the Library project can be found online here: