This exhibition includes selections of artwork and books from the Hunt Institute’s permanent collections that are representative of, or inspired by, the fascinating configurations in the architecture of all organisms. Recognizing objects and creating order through groupings and repetition is one of the most basic ways humans make sense of the chaos of our world. Through this lens we find that the natural world is filled with patterns, from the silhouettes we observe from afar to the surfaces we see up close, and even to the cellular structures we can observe only with assistance. These patterns can be understood through mathematical theories or more simplified visualizations and are interpreted by scientists, laypeople and artists.

The exquisite patterns on display include simple symmetries and more complex tessellations and fractals; growth rings, whorls and logarithmic spirals; explorations of larger patterns observed through groupings of like plants and plant parts; the visual study of plants in complex decorative arrangements and examples of these patterns in practice. Original watercolors, drawings and prints that illustrated scientific journals and popular books as well as artistic interpretations of the plant world are featured in the context of the exquisite patterns that appear in nature. Also included are two influential works on design—Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament (1868) and Eugène Grasset’s Plants and Their Application to Ornament (1896).

Opening reception

The reception on Sunday, 19 March (2:00–4:00 pm) is open to the public. At 2:30 pm the curators will give a short introduction to the exhibition in the gallery.

Open House 2017

Our annual Open House on Sunday, 25 June (1:45–4:30 pm) will include a talk (2:00–3:00 pm) and an exhibition tour (3:15–4:00 pm). Librarian Charlotte Tancin will present “A celebration of plants, enjoying endless variety of form and kind,” a talk and display from the Institute’s rare book collection. Striking historical illustrations of selected kinds of plants or aspects of their forms will be on display. She will talk briefly about each image, discussing what can be seen in the image and how the published image would have supported the work of botanists at the time, such as in floristic studies, reports of explorations, monographs on a family or genus, documenting new introductions or celebrating exotic garden plants. This event is free and open to the public.


The exhibition will be on display on the 5th floor of the Hunt Library building at Carnegie Mellon University and will be open to the public free of charge. Hours: Monday–Friday, 9 am–noon and 1–5 pm; Sunday, 1–4 pm (except 14, 16 and 21 April and 7, 21, 28 and 29 May). Because our hours of operation are occasionally subject to change, please call or email before your visit to confirm. For further information, contact the Hunt Institute at 412-268-2434.

  • [Insect- and wind-borne pollen of Dicotyledoneae and Monocotyledoneae], watercolor on paper by Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden (1907–2007), ca.1990, 25 × 17.5 cm, for her The Clover and the Bee: A Book of Pollination (New York, Thomas Crowell, 1990, p. 12), HI Art accession no. 7408.39, Rights, except gift industry, held by Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.