Margaret Beck Pritchard, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
America’s exotic landscape and discoveries of unfamiliar peoples, plants and animals fueled Europeans’ imaginations for nearly two centuries prior to the American Revolution. The English and Europeans had long studied the earth’s natural productions as a means to categorize and understand the world in which they lived, and America provided an unspoiled laboratory for learned men across the ocean to substantiate or dispel their own theories and beliefs. American colonists were eager to supply their foreign correspondents with their own observations, specimens and seeds.
While Europeans anxiously sought information and new species of flora and fauna from the New World, they regarded the American environment as hostile, condemning the climate, natives, animals and even immigrants as degenerate. America’s founding fathers, in particular, responded defensively. Conflicting theories about nature were also reflected in the work of artists such as Charles Willson Peale and his sons, Titian and Rembrandt.
After the Revolution, Americans approached their natural environment with a greater sense of confidence. America’s nature and her vast frontier lands began to represent the American Dream. Exploring the western landscape and recording new species of wildlife provided Americans with a sense of national pride. Dr. Pritchard’s talk will describe how Americans recorded and viewed nature and their landscape in ways that amplified their unique beliefs and values.
Margaret Beck Pritchard received a bachelor’s degree from Hollins College. After working with Winterthur’s needlework collection for a year, she received a fellowship at Colonial Williamsburg to assist with the refurnishing of the Governor’s Palace and subsequently became the curator of Colonial Williamsburg’s collections of prints, maps and wallpaper. Today, Ms Pritchard serves as Deputy Chief Curator of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Additional professional affiliations include the Board of Governors of the Decorative Arts Trust, the Advisory Board of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and the Board of Trustees for both the James River Association and Old Salem Museums and Gardens/Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.
Ms Pritchard’s recent exhibitions at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg include We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence, co-curated with Ron Grim, Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library (2017); A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South, co-curated with Ronald L. Hurst (ongoing); More than Meets the Eye: Maps and Prints of Early America (2011); and the traveling exhibition Degrees of Latitude: Maps of America from the Colonial Williamsburg Collection (2002), a subject Ms Pritchard also addressed in a lecture to the Forum in 2010.
She has published extensively on topics ranging from “Textile and Paper Treatments for Walls and Ceilings” in The Chesapeake House: The Practice of Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg (2013) and “A Protracted View: The Relationship between Mapmakers and Naturalists in Recording the Land” in Amy R.W. Meyers, ed. Curious in our Way: The Culture of Nature in Philadelphia, 1740-1840 (2011) to Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America, co-authored with Henry G. Taliaferro (2002); and Empire’s Nature: Mark Catesby’s New World Vision, co-edited with Amy R. W. Meyers (1998).
Her most recent contributions to The Magazine Antiques include “Mark Catesby’s watercolor of the bald eagle?” (May/June 2015); “Useful devices: the prints and maps at MESDA” (January 2007); “John Drayton’s Watercolors” (January 2003); and “Maps as objects of material culture” (January 2001). She co-authored “A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South” with Ronald L. Hurst Antiques & Fine Arts (Winter/Spring 2014) and wrote “Maps in the Colonial Williamsburg Collection” The Portolan (Winter 2002). Her articles for The Colonial Williamsburg Journal include “Maps at Colonial Williamsburg” (Summer 2002); “Rethinking the Brush-Everard and George Wythe Houses” co-authored with William Graham (Winter 1995–96); “William Byrd II and His Lost History: Engravings of the Americas” co-authored with Virginia L. Sites (Winter 1992–93); and “Mark Catesby’s Productions in Nature” (February 1984).