The papers of Wilhelm Heinrich (William Henry) Prestele (1838-1895), artist, contain 12 linear feet of watercolors, pencil sketches, papers, plant materials, an album cover, and a portfolio, housed in 8 oversized folio boxes. This collection spans the years 1887-1891 and contains materials created as Prestele worked on illustrations intended for a monograph on native grapes by Thomas Volney Munson.
W. H. Prestele was appointed as the first artist of the Pomology Division of the United States Department of Agriculture on August 1, 1887. Also in 1887, T. V. Munson was appointed a Special Agent by the Division of Pomology to prepare a monograph on the native species of Vitis. This monograph was planned to contain descriptions of and interrelationships among the species and was to be illustrated with a color plate of each species. Prestele was assigned to create these plates. Preparation of the color plates was a slow process. Munson sent live and dried specimens, photographs, and sometimes detailed sketches of flowers or buds. Prestele then made color sketches of such details as shoot tips, leaves, and clusters, and sent these from Washington, D.C., to Munson in Denison, Texas, who suggested corrections if necessary. Finally, Prestele would assemble the parts into a single life-size painting for each species. The evolution of some of these watercolors can be seen in the collection through pencil sketches, notes, corrections, and specimens of dried plant material.
Munson completed the text before the paintings were finished. A four page typescript of the original manuscript, on a single species, Vitis californica, was found with the collection. The report of the Secretary of Agriculture for 1891 states that both the text and illustrations were complete, but that the cost was so great that use of the regular printing fund could not be justified. The USDA Pomologist hoped that Congress would appropriate special funds for this project, but such funds were never obtained. The only USDA publication of Munson's work is the Division of Pomology Bulletin, No. 3, "Classification and Generic Synopsis of the Wild Grapes of North America," by T. V. Munson, printed in Washington, D.C., in 1890. The manuscript was left with Munson, at first for revision or corrections, and when hopes for the publication of the monograph faded, he was given permission to use it for his 1909 Foundations of American Grape Culture.
Prestele's papers were housed in storage at the USDA's Division of Pomology in Washington, D.C., then transferred to the Arlington Farm in Virginia, moved to the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, and finally placed in the Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library.
This collection has been described at the item level, including a description and dimensions for each item. Folder descriptions are by Special Collections staff with original labeling in quotes, rendered exactly as it appears. Prestele frequently used abbreviations such as "cold." for "colored," sometimes varying the forms of abbreviation. For all watercolors and sketches, the term "branch" is used for a thick, brown, mature vine, and the term "vine" for a thin, green, young vine. One or more watercolor images may appear on the same page. Descriptions of separate images are divided by semi-colons. In the descriptions for all watercolors and sketches, notation has been made of whether they are signed or unsigned. All other materials, including tracings and other papers, in the collection are unsigned.