Bessie Niemeyer Marshall

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Bessie Niemeyer Marshall
Bessie Niemeyer Marshall.jpg
(photo credit: Petersburg Garden Club)
Sarah Elizabeth Niemeyer

(1884-12-25)December 25, 1884
DiedFebruary 14, 1960(1960-02-14) (aged 75)
Known forPainting (watercolor)

Bessie Niemeyer Marshall was an American botanical illustrator known for her watercolor paintings of the wildflowers of Lee Memorial Park. Her artwork documented the variety of plant species being preserved in Lee Memorial Park, a Works Progress Administration-funded wildflower and bird sanctuary in Petersburg, Virginia.[1][2]

Born Sarah Elizabeth Niemeyer on December 25, 1884, in Portsmouth, Virginia, Bessie Niemeyer married Myron Barrand Marshall, an Episcopalian priest, in 1907 and had nine children. After service in parishes in the Philippines and in Virginia, the family settled in Petersburg in 1937.[3]

In 1935, the city of Petersburg, using W.P.A. (Women's and Professional Division) funds, authorized the creation of a 25-acre wildflower sanctuary in Lee Memorial Park.[4] Under the direction of Petersburg Garden Club member Mary Donald Claiborne Holden, African American women labored on the project through 1940, clearing ravines, building ten miles of paths, and planting 365,00 plants, including 8,000 trees and 37,000 shrubs and more than one million honeysuckle roots to prevent erosion.[4][5] In 1937, Holden hired Marshall to paint watercolors of the dried and pressed plant specimens of Lee Park flora.[3] A self-taught artist, Marshall produced 238 watercolors of the Lee Park herbarium specimens; the paintings and 325 specimens were stored together in fourteen brown scrapbooks, ultimately housed for almost fifty years in the Petersburg Public Library. The collection was rediscovered by the Petersburg Garden Club in the 1990s.[6] [2]

Although she pursued other illustration assignments, Marshall had no other major commissions. She died on February 14, 1960 in Portsmouth, Virginia.[7]

Lee Memorial Park is now on the National Register of Historic Places.[7][8] Marshall and the Lee Park W.P.A. project are the subjects of a monograph published in 2000.[9] In 2014, fourteen reproductions of Marshall's paintings were exhibited in a joint show with reproductions of paintings by Mark Catesby[10] and in 2016, the Petersburg Area Art League exhibited 20 reproductions of Marshall's paintings.[2]


  1. ^ Donald G. Jones (March 2000). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Lee Memorial Park" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
  2. ^ a b c Petersburg Area Regional Tourism. ""Rediscovering the Forgotten Garden" at PAAL". Retrieved 2018-10-27.
  3. ^ a b Willcox Watershed Conservancy. "Bessie Marshall's Watercolors". Retrieved 2018-10-27.
  4. ^ a b Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. "Lee Memorial Park". African American Historic Sites Database. Retrieved 2018-10-27.
  5. ^ Willcox Watershed Conservancy. "Women, Wildflowers, & the WPA". Retrieved 2018-10-27.
  6. ^ Willcox Watershed Conservancy. "Rediscover the Forgotten Garden". Retrieved 2018-10-27.
  7. ^ a b "Virginia Women in History 2011 - Bessie Niemeyer Marshall". Retrieved 2018-10-27.
  8. ^ "Lee Memorial Park, NRIS 896". National Register of Historic Places. 2000. Retrieved 2018-10-27.
  9. ^ Kober, Nancy (2000). With Paintbrush and Shovel: Preserving Virginia's Wildflowers, Watercolors by Bessie Niemeyer Marshall. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. ISBN 978-0-8139-1969-0.
  10. ^ Blandcrowder. "Catesby, Marshall Show Opens Aug. 8 at Petersburg Library | Flora of Virginia Project". Retrieved 2018-10-27.