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This Girl Just Wants to Have Fun

“It was completely unplanned,” Carol Woodin says of her road to becoming a botanical artist since childhood. “I always imagined you couldn’t make a living as an artist so I thought I had to do something else. I did a lot of those something elses. I was always an outdoors person but I had never noticed wildflowers until I started to seek out native orchids.”

One of the “something elses” Woodin did was drive tractor trailers for three years. Part of her motivation was “I thought I would get out there, see all these great places and paint them. I was in my early 20s and really restless. I lived in Western New York State. I was doing all kinds of painting but botanical art really spoke to me.” Wooden was heavily influenced and inspired by Margaret Mee, a contemporary botanical artist from Brazil, who brought the message of environmental ethics to the public through her art. “That seemed to me the perfect combination: an art form focused on Nature that spread the word about plant biodiversity to an audience that might not be reached in any other way.”

After trucking cross-country, Woodin came home to the Hudson Valley and painted wild flowers she saw in her outdoor wanderings. “I didn’t know before that there were so many native orchids. Once I started digging in I started hunting them down. Once I started painting orchids I became obsessed.”

She found orchid people who knew where the wild ones grew. She visited people’s greenhouses to paint exotics and started showing at orchid shows. She flew to England to be judged by the Royal Horticultural Society and was awarded. “If you have a Gold Medal from RHS, it increases your credibility so I got one of those and that helped. And I always sold my work so it kept me going.”

An orchid grower told her about Philip Cribb, a scientist at Kew Gardens writing a second edition of a monograph about Old World slipper orchids. Woodin contributed 15 paintings to it. And now, after 20 years, Cribb’s new book titled Slipper Orchids of the Tropical Americas, including Phragmipedium, Selenipedium, and Mexipedium will soon be released with 20 of her paintings.

These days Woodin paints all kinds of plants as well as orchids that occur in Nature. When painting native plants, especially orchids, she paints in the field to see how they grow. “Painting in Nature has advantages. It’s exciting.”

Says Woodin: “A lot of people have the view of botanical art as old and dusty art form that doesn’t exist anymore, though there is a renaissance. It’s a wonderful way to spend a life. I’ve always loved to draw and paint and also the natural world. If it helps to get plant biodiversity out there, I’m happy. I want to get this stuff recorded so future generations will know what we have. I think a lot of it will be gone. Paintings will be a window into a completely different world and life that there will be.”

Carol Woodin is a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and is Director of Exhibitions for the American Society of Botanical Artists . Her work is exhibited and collected worldwide. She does commissions and teaches botanical art workshops “at a lot of different botanical gardens.” Her accolades are global. Read more about Carol Woodin here. And meet her at New York Botanical Garden's "Weird, Wild & Wonderful: An Evening of Women, Art & Botany" on May 29.

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published April 15, 2014

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Carol Woodin

Paphiopedilum rothschildianum

Artichoke Launched

Cypripedium reginae


Muir listens

Paphiopedilum isigne blabbing at a party


Phragmipedium kovichii

Two anemones

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