Athenaeum Music & Arts Library Joseph Clayes III Gallery

Joseph Clayes III Gallery


Sally Hagy-Boyer: Mankind's Mischief

March 14–May 2, 2020

Opening Reception—CANCELLED: Friday, March 13, 6:30–8:30 PM

Artist Walk-Through: Saturday, March 14, 11:00 AM



Drawing inspiration from the collections of the largest botanical library in the world at the New York Botanical Garden, Mankind’s Mischief creates a synthesis of the science of botany and personal reflections. Through imagery, illustrations, and books, Sally Hagy-Boyer explores how plants have their way of twining, growing, and enveloping the world around them—while humans have a history of manipulating the plant world for their own gains. She uses flora in ornament and pattern, allowing plants to be the forefront of her work while incorporating items from both the natural world, and the tossed and found: pods and sea glass, seaweed, and rusted wire. The exhibition title references a quote by notable Prussian geographer, explorer, and naturalist, Alexander von Humboldt giving a dire warning of “man’s disturbance of nature’s order.” Sally Hagy-Boyer was raised in Chicago and holds a BA in art and multimedia from San Diego State University. After 16 years in San Diego, Hagy-Boyer and her family relocated to New York, where she continues to exhibit in East coast venues and is represented in various public and private collections.


To open old journals or books and carefully unveil delicate botanical illustrations, whose colors are as vibrant as the day they were created…there is also the possibility that no one has looked at these particular images in decades. I have drawn a bibliography for this show because these works have informed my art…this provides a tactile connection to their words.”

–Sally Hagy-Boyer


Interview with Sally Hagy-Boyer

Interview by Lidia Rossner


What does it mean to you to have an exhibition at the Athenaeum?


It has been 10 years since my last solo show at the Athenaeum and this was like coming home. The venue is warm and inviting and is a beautiful, complimentary space to show my work. When I lived in San Diego I loved to go and see the exhibitions  and peruse the new books and periodicals. I always knew I would come across a gem of inspiration there. 


Since people can’s see the exhibition now, how would you describe it? What is it about? 

This show is my interpretation of botanical illustration, discovery, and mankind’s manipulation of the natural world. There are detailed pencil drawings, intricate silverpoint drawings, mixed media with watercolor, and altered books covered in string. My art depicts plant and animal forms that grow from my imagination. My inspiration comes from the images, books, people, and connections that I have made while working in the library at the New York Botanical Garden.


Walk us though your process of developing the idea, researching, deciding what materials to use, what size to make the works, and other considerations that were important for you.


I have been inspired almost daily by the books and images I have come across while working at the library of the New York Botanical Garden. I wanted to recreate my own versions of the scientific drawings of plants that I had seen. I love the precise, delicate line of the drawings, the movement of the compositions, and the microscopic discoveries.  Many of these drawings were hand colored so I used watercolor because of its happenstance possibilities. I applied color to the paper first and then let the color and paper dictate what I would draw.


I did a lot of reading on botanical subjects and attended lectures at the New York Botanical Garden prior to this show. Many of the books I read were by authors who gave lectures at the Garden. Living in New York which has the constant possibility of  making connections is magnified by the amount of stimuli one receives here.


I have always been bothered by what we do to make the world a better place for humans without thought for other living things. As I started reading the book, “The Invention of Nature” which is about the botanist Alexander von Humboldt, I couldn’t put it down. He was almost super human with an infinite capacity for knowledge and discovery. His words inspired my title “Mankind’s Mischief”. 


Since this show was made in New York and displayed in California I had a lot of planning to do. I knew I wanted to create some large drawings and supplement them with smaller drawings. These also needed to be framed. So I created all the larger drawings first, packed them up, and flew with them out to San Diego in the fall of 2019. I parted with the drawings with a lot of anxiety at oversize baggage, but they arrived with only one dent. In San Diego I dropped 12 drawings off with Ryan at Wonka Gallery and his suggestions for framing proved to be perfect! I left them in good hands and flew back to New York to finish my smaller pieces with the intent that they would all fit in a carryon bag. The time came to head back to San Diego and the packing was a success. I had small frames delivered to San Diego ahead of time and once I arrived a week before the show I was able to frame the remaining pieces.


Is this new work or continuation of series that you’ve been working on?


Most of the work in this show was created especially for Mankind’s Mischief in 2019 and 2020. I have been working in the library since 2013 and it has inspired my work since that time. It wasn’t until this show that I was really able to bring all my thoughts and inspirations together in one place. 


Tell us a bit about your background and how that shaped or influenced you as an artist?  


My father was an artist and this had a deep influence on me. He went to art school for seven years and never graduated — making art was something that he just did and it was who he was. He was always creating something new and trying new mediums and techniques.  He stopped going to school to raise a family but never stopped making art. He introduced me to art through his paintings, mobiles, photographs, and collages. I knew I was an artist at a very young age but it wasn’t a label it was who I was. 


How are you affected by Covid-19?


Our daughter lives in China so Covid-19 has been in our lives for a very long time. The anxiety about the unknown hit its peak in March when we left for San Diego to install my show. It was very unfortunate about its cancellation but completely necessary. 


I am working from home now with reduced hours. I’m very happy to still have a job and I’m looking forward to going back. I’m using this time to get our vegetable garden going, exercise my husband, me and the dog, make masks, bake bread and lots of cookies, connect with family and friends, not watch the news, and make art which is the best way to tune out.





Creativity in Quarantine: How the coronavirus pandemic is panning art in La Jolla (La Jolla Light)