Out of the Woods: Botanical Art Exhibit
by Mary Jasch
Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens is the Third Triennial Exhibition of the New York Botanical Garden and the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA), headquartered at the Garden.
ASBA artists worked over three years to capture trees, each one cultivated by a botanical garden or arboretum. Artists around the globe found subjects in small local arboreta as well as in some of the world's most renowned botanical gardens. By working with these institutions and subjects, artists engage others in the revival of the art form. We also hope to communicate the value of plants in contemporary life.
Over 200 images were submitted to the selection jury for this exhibition, and forty-three were chosen. In the exhibition and book can be found depictions ranging from flowers to branches and bark to an entire forest floor.
Some capture the wonder we all feel looking upward through branches to the sky, or examining a fragrant fallen seedpod.
- Carol Woodin, botanical artist and Director of Exhibitions for ASBA
Four regional artists are profiled here.
The woods are nothing new to botanical artist Betsy Rogers-Knox who, like many other plant lovers and botanical artists, spent childhood years playing outdoors and a lifetime of being close to Nature.
Betsy earned an Associate’s Degree in Fine Art at Garland Jr. College in Boston, then tended to wanderlust when she and a roommate drove to Vail, Colorado, in a mustang convertible. She returned to Connecticut and attended New York’s School of Visual Arts, then went back again to Vail where she met her husband of 45 years and “followed him all around. But I was always doing art no matter where I was.”
They moved to Boulder, where Betsy became fascinated with wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains. One can only imagine their glory, and after experiencing “the sheer beauty of wildflowers and plants” at an exhibit at University of Colorado, she knew botanical art was her calling. “I just enjoyed drawing them." Betsy wrote a letter to Anne Ophelia Dowdien, botanical artist, to say she loved the art form and where could she learn more. Dowdien told her to go to the New York Botanical Garden.
But the couple moved to Maine and opened a B&B Inn with a small gallery where Betsy sold her watercolors of all the wild flowers that grew along the coast.
Years went by and Betsy and family moved to Litchfield County, CT, a mere two hours to the New York Botanical Garden. “I said ‘Aha! I’m close enough now. I’m going to NYBG and take their program.’” Three years later she got her certificate in Botanical Illustration, though she really got into botanical art at 20, when she “just drew plants.”
Betsy’s early botanical association was with wild plants; the only memorable cultivated garden belonged to her English grandfather. “He loved his plants. That sparked my interest. He was always dressed in a white shirt and he had his little trowel. He showed me his plants and flowers all tidy and in neat rows.”
She learned about ASBA while at a conference for artists from all over the world. “ASBA is a wonderful organization for anybody interested on any level,” she says. Betsy teaches at NYBG and also at Filoli Garden, Woodside, CA, in September.
Her two watercolors in Out of the Woods are: Eastern hemlock, Tsuga Canadensis, found at Cary Institute, Millbrook, NY, and Goldenrain tree, Koelreuteria paniculata, at NYBG.
Betsy Rogers-Knox: www.rogersknoxart.com/
“My mother likes to say I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil. I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ve always had a paper and pencil at hand. My grandfather used to get mad at me because he had reams of paper in containers and I would do a couple of scratches then throw them away.” – Botanical artist Carrie Di Costanzo
But scratches turned to gorgeous oil paintings as Carrie grew up. “My mother was great. She sent me to art classes when I was very young – six or seven years old.” Local workshops continued through high school. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York and spent four years doing fashion illustration “which was wonderful.”
While at FIT, she worked for Ralph Lauren for a couple years. After graduation she worked for Calvin Klein for seven years, then quit to raise a family.
When her kids got older and looking for something to do, she visited the Highgrove Florigium in Manhattan in 2008. It was a collection of paintings depicting the garden of Prince Charles: the Royal Gardens at Highgrove. “I didn’t know anything about botanical art,” she says. “I was so impressed with the detail and level of work and the plants. I was inspired by it and wanted to learn more.”
Carrie looked into workshops and found Mindy Lighthipe, a local New Jersey artist who taught at her studio. “She was a wonderful instructor. She encouraged me to start exhibiting my work. It was great advice to do all juried exhibits. It’s difficult to get into them and that elevates the level of the work. I keep that in mind while I’m working.
“My first interest was in fashion illustration. My mother had a wonderful cottage garden but I didn’t take too much of an interest in it until I became interested in botanical art. Then I started noticing textures and colors because I wanted to capture that once I started depicting those plants on paper. It was almost like an awakening. My eyes were opened.”
For the first seven years Carrie painted in gouache and watercolor, and later, egg tempera, inspired by the work of Andrew Wyeth. “As with any new technique, there’s a learning curve. It doesn’t come easy. There’s a certain level of frustration you have to get past and you have to stick with it.”
For “Out of the Woods” Carrie chose a blooming Southern catalpa, Catalpa bignoniodes
and a weeping Norway spruce, Picea abies
‘Pendula’ both living in Colonial Park, Somerset, New Jersey.
Carrie Di Costanzo: www.carriedicostanzo.com
“I’ve always wanted to paint a conifer, so with the upcoming “Out of the Woods” exhibition in mind, a walk through the NYBG’s Benenson Ornamental Conifers was in order. I came upon what can only be described as the “unusual” Snake Branch Spruce at the optimum time in May when the new bright green growth contrasted with the darker green older growth. I was immediately engaged by it.” – Botanical Artist Ingrid Finnan
Ingrid’s family always had a garden. Her father was a farmer in Poland and always had a garden, even when they moved to Long Island and then to Brooklyn. “But not in the Bronx, but I have access to a lot of different things in the city,” she says.
She was a fine arts major in college, then dove into the commercial art of decorative textile design as an independent contractor. When she retired, she wanted to do fine art and was attracted to botanical art. "Two artists invited me to a botanical art show. I immediately responded to it. I thought ‘Gee, I think I can do that too!’ I just liked the ability to paint." Today she teaches botanical art in oil.
In decorative textile design she painted flowers galore, especially roses and combinations of spring flowers. “I always admired Dutch painters of the 17th and 18th centuries. I collected books and went to museums and I thought let me try oils because that’s what the Masters did. Their paintings reflect the impermanence of life – we had our heyday and life goes on.”
The vivid colorful oil paintings of plants and animals by British artist Raymond Booth inspired Finnan to paint in oils, an uncommon medium in botanical art.
Ingrid chose two trees from the New York Botanical Garden: the native Northern Red Oak, Quercus rubra, and Norway’s Snake Branch Spruce, Picea abies ‘Virgata.’ She joined ASBA in 2006 when she started doing botanical art.
Ingrid Finnan: www.asba-art.org/member-gallery/ingrid-finnan
“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” Carol 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.” Read more of Carol's story here.
Carol Woodin is Director of Exhibitions for ASBA. She chose to paint Magnolia
‘Elizabeth’ in bloom at NYBG.
The exhibit runs through April 20 in the Ross Gallery at New York Botanical Garden.
American Society of Botanical Artists: asba-art.org
New York Botanical Garden: www.nybg.org
View the artwork online: www.asba-art.org/exhibitions/out-woods
A full-color exhibition catalog is available at NYBG Shop.
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published February 23, 2018