Deborah Griscom Passmore (1840-1911) used to be a botanical illustrator for the U.S department of Agriculture. She was an exceptional artist during those days since she specialized in making fruit paintings and has been classified as one of the best among the early USDA artists. Since her death, her work is currently preserved at the USDA’s Pomological Watercolor Collection where people can view her fine work of art. Through her skills, she rose to become the best USDA staff artist and also the most dominant member of the group. Out of the 7500 paintings in the Pomological Watercolor Collection, she contributed a fifth of them.
After returning from Europe where she had gone to study Art for one year, she began painting the wild flowers of America, lilies and other flowers she liked. She had the desire to publish the water colors under the title Flowers in Water Color: Wildflowers of America, but she passed away before she could accomplish it. The manuscript is now kept in the USDA’s Special Collections. In order to achieve the desired effect she used hundreds of washes and Edward Lee Greene, a famous botanist, really admired her flower paintings. Among other works she painted was the cacti and a couple of them were printed under the title, The Cactaceae in 1919 by Carnegie Institution.
Deborah Griscom Passmore was induced by William W Corcoran (founder of Corcoran Gallery of Art), to relocate to Washington since he had been impressed by her work. After his death, she was able to get a job with the U.S Department of Agriculture in 1892. One of the first tasks she was given at USDA was painting exhibits for the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893 which was held in Chicago. During that period, she had the opportunity to enter her paintings in the Art exhibition at the Exposition. Her work mainly covered different types of fruits such as pears, apples, oranges, plums, peaches, strawberries, persimmons and gooseberries. Some of the minor fruits she also covered include; kumquat, loquat and Surinam cherry. During the 19 years she worked at USDA, she produced more than 1500 finished paintings, majority of which were done from 1895-1902. Some of her prominent works; the McIntosh apple and the Wickson Plum were published in the departmental year book among the most promising new fruits. She opened her own studio in Washington D.C where she taught art, but, she later died of a heart attack on Jan 3, 1911 at home.