The Herbarium associated with the Denver Botanical Gardens has an excellent specimen collection related to the plant diversity of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountain region. And that’s not the best thing about it.
It also has one of the few actively curated ethnobotany collections in the U.S. One of the items reported was the widespread use of plants in the Cedar/Juniper family by dozens of Native American tribes for things like as a talisman to help protect against evil spirits, medicine, fuel and dyes. And although I love this kind of stuff, it’s still not the best part.
The skeleton of this collage is a preserved orchid plant. Like most root systems, the roots of orchid plants are surprisingly strong. Most of the roots original to this plant are still intact.
Other elements in this collage include a variety of poly-cotton threads, Macrocarpa leaves, Honey Locust thorns, one milkweed seedpod lining, and an old orchid bloom.
Orchids have a long history of inspiring people. As early as 479 B.C., Confucius compared all that was virtuous to orchids. For this reason, Chinese artists placed orchids in their work to evoke qualities of humility, integrity, and refinement.
Orchids must have been the inspiration for at least one song Confucius wrote. He’s credited with composing “Youlan,” (The Solitary Orchid”), one of the earliest pieces of written music that survived the centuries.
Native tallgrasses have always thrived in the Flint Hills. The rocky terrain has prevented plant based farming, so native plants (at least those not displaced by invasives like Bush Honeysuckle) have perpetuated through centuries of droughts, floods, wildfires and controlled burns.
Milkweed occurs frequently among the grasses in the prairies. Monarch butterflies depend on (and can’t exist without) milkweed. I’ve tried to cultivate it and can’t. (I hate it when I’m at an intersection in the late summer and see the Monarchs fluttering aroung – it’s like they know the flowers they need used to be there.)
In the winter, as the fallen seedpods begin to disassemble and deteriorate in the elements, the inner linings of the seedpod separate from the casings.
The innermost surface of the seedpod is shiny and metallic. It’s quite extraordinary. I’m still trying to find an appropriate way to appreciate the pieces I found.
This post shows two small pieces of seedpod lining with prairie grasses.
My collaboration with U.M.K.C.’s Her Art Project at the Plaza Art Fair was designed to explore sharing plant art and dance with as many people as possible. I was excited for the opportunity to be in such a highly traffic-ed area. It turned out to be way more people than I had expected.
There were more kids than there was space at the art making table from the moment I arrived to the time I cleared the table. The kids were determined and focused – they seemed absolutely starved to create. There was little time to talk about their creations or about dance.
After the table was converted to another project, I issued the dance invitation to people who passed by U.M.K.C.’s tent dance, and then I went into the crowd. The invitation was for a dance dare: go up behind someone and do a great dance – without them knowing it – in exchange for an art card.
It’s not easy selling something I love for $14. The 5″ x 7″ art cards I create and sell for under $15 are carefully crafted on conservation quality materials and always seem like such a perfect piece of natural beauty. And maybe I have a hard time letting go.
This year I gave myself some time to struggle with understanding the issue of letting go. Do I really want other people to have them? (I decided Yes!) Am I ready to let go of them? (Well, I thought, if they appreciate them “enough,” then yes). Am I doing this for the money? (I’m not making enough to matter, so no). Then why would the money exchange matter?
The cold wind in the Flint Hills on a “warm” winter day was brutal. I took a trip to there to collect some winter-dried grasses before the killer part of our 2011 winter set in.
I wasn’t ready for the early sunset while I was knee deep in the native grasses, surrounded by the woody remains of an old train station. I hadn’t noticed the increasing darkness, but the moon was rising large and orange, the temperature was sliding lower, and my nose was running freely.
Lavender has been growing wild for all of recorded history. I’ve preserved this most lovely specimen to create truly green art. It’s not the best picture – the color is actually rich and green. It hasn’t changed much in the six years I’ve had it.
Lavender a powerful herb. It is used for a huge variety things, including to treat stress and depression, to speed healing, and to kill bacteria.
It’s been used throughout history in cleaning and as a perfume. During the peak of the Roman times, one pound of good lavender was sold for the price of an average worker’s monthly salary.
It’s known to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It can aid sleep and relaxation, treat burns and helps acne. Dried lavender is a highly desireable fragrance and deters moths.
I’ve loved this piece of lavender for years, but I never framed it. I was happy to let it go as part of a series to a new home last month.
Explorers collected and preserved plants to bring their beauty to their homes far away. Early healers preserved plants to heal their patients. I preserve plants for their beauty and the richness of their history.
The notes and pictures here are my explorations into the plant world as visual, historical, and cultural elements. Sometimes the explorations occur as travel, and sometimes they're entirely internal, like what happens when I trust an inkling, and watch it become art.