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   Botanical Painting                                                       
   A new generation of artists commits the myriad of the natural world to paper

               

   What makes an art form endure from generation to generation, from century to century? An audience that continues to appreciate the material is certainly a significant part of the equation. But perhaps even more important is the sustained interest of artists themselves. Botanical painting - a blend of art and science in which plants are depicted with an eye toward exacting accuracy - has succeeded on both counts.

   "If you asked six artists to paint the same flower, the result would be six very different images, "explains Katherine Manisco, a British-born botanical painter who divides her time between homes in New York City and Rome, Italy. "That endless variety keeps this old tradition very much alive."

   Arkansas painter Kate Nessler concurs. "There's no flower, leaf, fruit, or vegetable that hasn't been depicted already," she admits. "The challenge for botanical artists today is to bring something new to subjects that have always been there." By such seemingly humble considerations as where to place a flower on a page or which parts of a plant to include or exclude, artists can create works entirely their own.

   The roots of botanical art in the West trace back to the "herbals" of ancient Greece and Rome, in which simple, stylized drawings of medicinal plants and flowers accompanied written observations of the natural world. As the years passed, illustrations became increasingly realistic. Throughout the 1500s and in the centuries that followed, botanical artists accompanied explorers on their voyages, capturing the flora and fauna of far-off places on paper. Back home, these sketches would be transformed into woodcuts and copperplate engravings that were then printed, hand colored, and incorporated into large picture books. These illustrated volumes proved extremely popular because they allowed the folks who stayed at home to iew the world beyond their own towns and led to subsequent editions devoted to plants and flowers grown closer to home - roses or camellias, for example, among others. Early masters of the art included Basilius Besler (1561-1629), George Brookshaw (1751-1823), and Pierre Joseph Redoute (1759-1840).

   Advancements in photography during the late 19th and early 20th century brought an end to the necessity of creating hand sketches and engravings as scientific records, since photographs could capture botanical subjects with greater accuracy. Over the course of the following century, a handful of artist kept the tradition alie, eith hand-colored engravings gradually being replaced by the freehand watercolor renderings that are most common today.

   Unlike the still-life tradition, which often portrays flowers and fruits in a dramatic or impressionistic manner, botanical painting depicts nature in exacting detail against a plain white background. "Some people think that the strict rules of botanical art stifle creativity, but that's not the case at all," Kate Nessler reveals. "You're telling a story with details. Only on close examination can you capture the quiver of a delicate violet stem or the crackle of a dried leaf in the underbrush".

   Nessler is not alone in her love of the genre: Since its establishment in 1995, membership in the American Society of Botanical Artists has grown from 350 to more than 800 painters, scholars, and collectors. "There has been an incredible surge of interest in botanical art in the past decade," says ASBA president Michele Meyer, whose San Francisco-based organization is credited by many in the field with bringing botanical art to the public's attention through exhibitions, lectures, and workshops in galleries, botanic gardens, and natural-history museums. "Its popularity is closely connected to the heightened awareness of environmental issues these days," she says. "As the number of flowers and green plants diminished around us, we cherish the ones we have left more."

   Collectors, too, have developed a soft spot for these depictions of the natural world, reports Evelyn Kraus, owner of Ursus Books & Prints, a Nw York City bookshop and gallery that regularly hosts exhibits of contemporary botanical art. According to Kraus, the desire to preserve and celebrate the natural world has definitely increased the demand for this work, but she thinks that an equally important factor has been the diminishing number of antique prints on the market. "Collectors who were finding it more difficult to locate fine period pieces have been pleasantly surprised to learn that so many artists are continuing the tradition," she says.

   Prices for contemporary botanical paintings start at about $500 and quickly rise to $3000 or more, depending on size, subject, and an artist's renown. The factor that affects value most, Kraus adds, is the complexity of the subject. "A single jonquil will take less time to commit to paper than an orchid with an intricate floral pattern and root system," she explains.

   While some collectors favor a particular subject - hollyhocks or sunflowers, for example - others appreciate the endless variety that botanical painting provides. "Unlike real flowers or fruit," Michele Meyer observes, the subjects of these paintings will never fade."

Timeline of Tetrapanax papyriferum:

265-420 A.D.
The earliest mention of the use of pith paper is thought to be during the Tsin Dynasty (265-420 A.D.). In the official records in the year of Jiann Kang "Jiann Kang Shyr Luh", it is mentioned that the emperor ordered servants to arrange flowers made from "Tung-tsaou".

1590
Image of Rice Paper plant is published in 1590 in the Pen ts'ao kang mu (Chinese Materia Medica) by Shizhen Li.

1634
Pith papermaking discussed in T'ien Kung K'ai Wu, a guide to Chinese technology in the 17th century.

1690
Rice paper plant first mentioned in Western literature in Georg Eberhard Rumpf's Herbarium Amboinenes under the name Buglossum litoreum.

1805
The first examples of "rice-paper" were brought to England in 1805 from China by a Dr. Livingstone.

Circa 1825
Pith paper paintings begin to be produced in Southern China, more than likely for the tourist trade.

1830
General Hardwicke identifies the "rice-paper" plant as Aeschynomene paludosa in Botanical Miscellany v.1, 1830.

1834
George Bennett, in his Wanderings in New South Wales (1834) publishes the first picture of the
"rice paper" plant available to the western world. [Image can be seen on the main exhibit page]

1850
Sir William Jackson Hooker receives the first samples of pith paper, a model of the knife used in cutting the plant, and a series of paintings detailing the plant and the production of the rice paper.

1852
Berthold Seeman, during the voyage of the H.M.S. Herald , collected a specimen of the rice paper plant that he believed belonged to the family Malvaceae.

1852
Hooker receives first living specimens of the plant and comes to the conclusion that the "rice paper" plant is part of the Araliaceous family and so re-names it Aralia Papyrifera, Hook.

1855
Hooker receives a flowering specimen from J. W. Bowring esq., Hong Kong, and is able to prepare a complete description for Curtis's Botanical Magazine

mid to late 1850s
With increased European interest, the market for pith paper and its product greatly expands.

1859
German botanist Karl Koch, in Wochenschrift fur Gartnerei und Pflanzenkunde recharacterizes the plant as a Didymopanax, subgenus Tetrapanax.

1903
Over 144,000 lbs of rice paper are exported from Taiwan, and 2,000-3,000 people are employed in the rice paper artificial flower industry in Canton, China, and Hong Kong alone.

circa 1920
The European demand for rice paper paintings dies out.

 

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Murals and Faux Painting
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We are a family owned business that is currently licensed and insured in the state of CO. Since 1980 MGS Renovations has been providing quality remodeling services to customers in Southern Colorado. We offer clean, quick and reliable service as well as true attention to detail. We also do insurance claims - siding, roofing, windows, doors, water restoration, custom framing, bathroom remodeling, kitchen remodeling, decks, sheetrock, basement finishing, painting, gutters, wood flooring, tile, or anything else you can think of. We are certified installers of Vinyl, James Hardie Siding, Pella Windows, and Trex decking, but we have experience doing many other things. We work with you, the customer, to make every step of the process smooth and enjoyable.

 

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