Linda Scarth, 1941–2017
Robert Scarth, 1939–2022
Written by Holly Carver
When I think of Linda and Robert Scarth, this image comes to mind. In 2007, when the Knight Prairie Pavilion at Kent Park was dedicated, a bunch of us went on a wagon ride, circling the reconstructed prairie and stopping at various features along the way. Suddenly Linda and Bob leaped out of the wagon with their cameras and vanished into the tall grasses. All you could see, if you looked closely enough, were two compact bent-over figures slowly inspecting and photographing and just plain relishing everything they discovered along the way. This was trademark Scarth behavior: both predictable and surprising.
Theirs was a partnership of painstaking exploration and documentation wrapped in a blanket of warm appreciation for each morsel of the natural world, particularly the smaller, more intimate details of the often-overlooked native plants and animals of the Midwest that they captured with flawless macro photography. And “partnership” is the right word. Yes, they had separate and quite varied careers (although it is hard to imagine them stuck in a classroom or an office all day), but in photography they acted as a unit—signing all their photos with both their names, finishing each other’s sentences as they described their latest and next adventures.
Bob and Linda were generous with their time, always willing to speak and to share their photos at Iowa Native Plant Society meetings (and Linda also served as president), Loess Hills seminars, and other conservation events. As they wrote in their book Deep Nature: Photographs from Iowa—a book I was lucky enough to edit—they valued “being part of a community that appreciates this fragile yet robust natural world.” Their yard was a showcase of their understanding of this natural world. Not your typical well-manicured Cedar Rapids yard, it was a deliberately uncontrolled riot of native plants that served as their outdoor studio, where they found “the small things in the fabric of nature” that inspired them.
These words from their 2009 Christmas card, tucked inside my autographed copy of Deep Nature, are exactly the words that they would want us to remember them by: “We hope you are finding and enjoying the beauty of the place you live, as well as the world at large.”