This piece is via UC Davis, with reporting by Luis Alvaro, student intern for Strategic Communications.
Fruit box labels and seed packets tell the story of agriculture and explain – in part – how California’s abundant landscape captured the American imagination. UC Davis has curated a collection of commercial art produced between 1900-1930, mostly consisting of fruit box labels and seed packets. These pieces of art not only encouraged the nation to buy California’s fruits and vegetables, but also helped develop a mystique about the Golden State that inspired many across the nation to pull up stakes and head west.
“These pieces document and illustrate California’s agriculture, the greatest in the nation,” says Axel Borg, a postharvest agricultural library specialist at UC Davis.
Borg has interpreted California’s cultural and agricultural history through these visual culture pieces. He explains the ways in which they demonstrate how seed companies and fruit packers used modern marketing methods to captivate the consumer…and to create a very specific and enduring image of California as a land of plenty.
Parts of the collection can be viewed in the main room of Special Collections, which is located on the first floor of the UC Davis library. The collection includes several pieces by noted artist Maxfield Parrish, which were commissioned by the Ferry-Morse Seed Co.
UC Davis has also added an online gallery of pomological (fruit) watercolors by Ellen Schutt. Ellen Isham Schutt (1873-1955) was an illustrator with the USDA between 1904-1914. The online collection contains 286 original watercolors of fruits – mostly apples – that were rendered by Schutt for the University of California.