Bruce Museum

Greenwich, CT



Flower Power: Botanical Art


In celebration of spring, the Bruce Museum of Arts and Science presents a new exhibition "Flower Power: Botanical Art" from April 30 through July 1, 2000. Approximately 36 paintings and drawings by 23 artists are on display highlighting the exquisite beauty of flowers and their role in the reproduction of the species. The exhibition includes selected Bruce Museum specimens such as mounted birds, bees, butterflies and other insects to show how these pollinators work together in their joint evolution. (left: Katie Lee, Pollination Series, 1999-2000, (Detail of Costa's Hummingbird), gouache, 30 x 24 inches)

Many plants are rooted in the ground, making it difficult for the separate male and female reproductive parts to get together. Flowering plants have evolved a variety of methods to overcome this obstacle. Some use flowing water or wind to scatter voluminous amounts of pollen, relying upon a chance meeting to continue the species. Others produce appealing flowers that lure pollination partners through form, fragrance, and sensory achievements. Flower Power: Botanical Art explores this important aspect of ecology by presenting a colorful variety of works and a diversity of artistic styles that each demonstrate the interaction of plants and their pollinators.

The art on display shows a range of botanical art styles from the accurate, descriptive precision of scientific illustration, botanical illustration, and plant portraits to the identifiable but more emotional approach of botanical painting and flower painting. The exhibition, curated by the Bruce Museum, is drawn from works submitted by artists from the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and the American Society of Botanical Artists.

Scientific illustrators, who illustrate the plant in all stages of the life cycle, have a solid knowledge of botany. They are trained to work with a microscope, create and illustrate dissections and, when working with live or dried specimens, visually bring the plant to life. These works are created strictly to inform, but when done by a master they can be aesthetically rewarding as well as educational. An example of the scientific style in the exhibition is presented by Bee Gunn of the New York Botanical Garden. The artist's illustration of Aphandra natalia shows a species of palm that attracts beetles, flies and bees. A type of beetle feeds on the pollen produced by the male trees and mates. The female trees, lacking the pollen reward, mimic the scent of the male trees and attract pollen-laden beetles, which deposit their eggs and complete the fertilization process for the palms. Created for scientific purposes, the color drawing allows details to be shown that cannot otherwise be revealed.

Botanical illustration, such as Coryanthes speciosa Orchid and Euglossa Bees by Rosemary Volpe of Monroe, Connecticut, reveals the accuracy found in scientific illustration but is more simply rendered for publications such as school science books, field guides, magazines and catalogs. Volpe's illustration, which appeared in the March 1999 issue of Natural History magazine, reveals a cut-away view of the Central and South American orchid and two bees.

Attracted by the flower's fragrance, male euglossine bees collect a scented wax inside the orchid's bonnet that they use to attract female bees during the courtship dance. If a bee falls into the orchid's fluid-filled bucket, he must escape through a narrow passageway where sticky pollen grains rub onto his back. For pollination to occur, the bee must go to a second flower of the same species, again fall into the flower's bucket and escape so that the pollen catches on the tunnel and completes the pollination of the plant.

Many of the works on exhibit are plant portraits, accurate renderings of a single typical flower stem showing leaves, flowers and buds centered on the paper. They often tell the whole story of the plant. In this exhibit a variation on the plant portrait presents flowering plants accompanied by their animal pollination partner. Butterfly Bush with Spicebush Swallowfail Butterfly by Dick Rauh of Norwalk, CT, Bull Thistle by Eleanor Wunderlich of Ossining, NY, and flower and hummingbird paintings by Katie Lee of South Salem, NY, and Winnie Staniford of Old Greenwich, CT, are examples. As depicted by Mindy Lighthipe of Scotch Plains, NJ, the hummingbird is essential in the pollination of the Heliconia flower. The large showy bracts (leaf-life parts of a plant) attract the hummingbird to sip the nectar of the tiny flowers. Hummingbirds must gather enough nectar for their high energy lifestyles and visit numerous flowers to get what they need, pollinating as they go.

The more accurately rendered botanical painting and looser flower painting both emphasize the composition and emotional appeal of the subject. In Jee-Yeon Koo's Nature I, a dazzling field of yellow tulips plays against a deep blue sky and the rich green leaves and stems. Koo mixes her own colors and presents the subjects with a vitality and strength that might fool an errant bee.

Read more about the Bruce Museum in Resource Library Magazine.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

rev. 1/29/11

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