Sarah Nicholls, “Glasshouse”

First spread; text is printed on blue Zerkall Ingres, which functions as an overlay to the images. This first page introduces the history of greenhouses as a technology. Images are all printed from multicolor woodblocks.

Second spread. Left hand page has ferns printed from woodblocks onto kozo, which was then waxed, making it translucent.

Center spread, part one. Text discusses Linnaeus and taxonomy, and the global trade in plants.

Breadfruit, second section. Image on left hand side is a botanical illustration of breadfruit, a crop brought from the South Pacific to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean as food for slaves. Image on right hand side is a botanical illustration of sugar cane.

Center spread, second section. Cinchona is the natural source of quinine, a treatment for malaria. Seeds were stolen from Peru and cultivated for the British in India, which eased the way for further colonization in tropical areas, like the interior of Africa.


Sarah Nicholls
Brooklyn, New York

Letterpress and multi-color woodcuts on Sakamoto Heavy, waxed Kozo, and Zerkall Ingres.
edition size of 35
40 pages
8.25″x 20.5″x .25″
8.25″ x 10.25″ x .5″

Artist Statement

Glasshouse is a limited edition artist book that looks at the history of greenhouses, a technology made to cultivate foreign plants in a controlled environment, originally in service to empire. How did we build structures to contain trees meant to grow elsewhere? What is it like to sail off the edge of what you know? What does economic botany mean? I was originally interested in the subject because I thought building a house in which to grow foreign trees seemed like an odd thing to do. In an effort to understand what greenhouses meant, I read widely both in the history of botany and in the history of colonialism. In an era before the chemical industry, plants were the source of most economic advantage, so the cultivation of new kinds of plants taken from other areas of the world became important to Europeans. Botanical gardens were research facilities, not just collections of pretty flowers.

The book has two sections: the first discusses the development of greenhouses as a technology, and the rise of botany as a science. The second looks at specific kinds of plants that became important as global commodities. Images are printed from multi-color woodcuts; they are meant to give the impression of walking through a greenhouse as you page through the book. I used translucency as a technique to mimic the effect you get as you pass through glass rooms full of plants. Longer passages of text are printed on overlays which are like the didactic captions you get in a botanical garden display.