Conference Memories 

Pittsburgh - 2010 

By Pria Graves  

Originally Appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 16, Issue 4

 

It is always exciting to arrive for the beginning of the conference. The atmosphere feels rather like a big, warm family with the added energy of our shared passion. There are friends to greet from all over the world and new people to meet. The buzz begins to build and before you know it, the Conference is in full swing! 

Thursday started with portfolio sharing. Many artists had prints on display and a few shared original works - always a treat. I enjoyed comparing two leaves that Helen Allen of England had painted on a single piece of paper in different workshops. Contrasting a very dry brush approach with a technique using many thin glazes to build up the form produced quite different results. Finally, there are always new tips and ideas that artists are happy to share. 

At the Annual Meeting and luncheon, President Dick Rauh reminded us how fortunate we are to have a very hard working board and staff. He announced that after more than fifteen years our Treasurer, Julius Brown, is retiring. Fortunately Derek Norman has agreed to step into his very large shoes. Although ill health prevented Julius from joining us, he had written a financial statement for Derek to present. We have grown to 1169 members in 45 states and 22 countries. Dues provide less than 50

 of our needed funding. This past year was challenging financially, but our board and members have been very generous and supportive. 

In the new position of Annual Meeting and Programs Coordinator, Marilyn Garber will coordinate the annual conferences. Committee reports followed, including a call by our editor Libby Kyer for pictures for our image bank. She’s also working on creating online submission forms for both images and text input, hoping to reduce editing time, ensure that all necessary information is included and make submissions so much easier for our members. 

Carol Woodin, Director of Exhibitions, talked about our successes this past year. Our traveling show, Losing Paradise, has been invited to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew Gardens, while on the home front, the previous week had been declared Botanical Art Week by New York City in recognition of the opening of three major shows! Preparations for next year are in progress too: 42 images (from 260 submissions!) have been chosen for the Green Currency exhibition scheduled to open in April of 2011 at The New York Botanical Garden. 

Finally, members of the New England Society of Botanical Artists, enticed us to attend the 2011 Annual Meeting and Conference in Boston. Dr. Ruth Starratt’s and Carole Ely’s presentation reminded us that Boston is a wonderful historic city that can be walked in a single day. In addition to a non-juried Small Works exhibition which will be open to all participants, the conference will include a private reception at the Harvard Natural History Museum with its famous glass flower collection. Be sure to make plans to attend. 

Immediately following the general meeting and lunch, the Technique Showcase employed a digital video camera and large screen, allowing a clear view of demonstrations. 

Martin Allen of England started off by sharing his sources of inspiration. For him, the bud is the most exciting moment, a pause in time, full of the excitement of potential. A selftaught artist, he uses a very limited palette and admits to being borderline red/green colorblind. Martin uses a very dry brush technique since he works on a hard paper that makes colors lift easily. 

Karen Bell- Brugger of Minnesota, is a graphite artist with a scientific background. She works mostly on Arches HP but uses a micro abrasive film to remove fuzz before beginning work. She uses a variety of carbon and graphite pencils and often begins her shading with graphite dust applied with a brush. To prevent smearing the work, Karen uses a clear plastic bridge. 

Billie Showell of England comes from a fashion design background. She transitioned by painting flowers for her husband’s mural painting business. Billie does far less compositional drawing. She often begins simply by placing the initial flower 1/3 of the page down from the top and 1/3 in from the left, then places other flowers around it. The ends of stems are left unfinished until she sees how the composition has evolved. Her wetinto- wet technique is amazing, as form emerges as she drags and pushes the paint around! She works quickly: about a week per painting. 

As an added treat, Showcase observers got a chance to view the elegant present created for Julius Brown. Since he and his wife have long collected botanical art, it was felt that a collection of small paintings by ASBA friends would be an appropriate way to thank him for his years of service. And since the walls of their home are already full, a special clam-shell box covered in linen and hand-marbled paper was created to hold the 23 images. 

Being included in the International Exhibition at the Hunt is rather like the Holy Grail for the botanical art community. After arriving, I immediately  headed into the exhition space hoping for a close look at the paintings before the crowd got too thick. Hunt Curator Lugene Bruno selected amazing pieces for the show in a variety of media and styles.  Holding the Conference in Pittsburgh to coincide with the show ensured that quite a number of the featured artists from around the world attended the reception  What a treat!  

On Friday, I attended Hillary Parker’s Deliberate Composition class. She begins to create a painting by writing down thoughts about the subject matter, to clarify both her view of the plant’s vitality and the voice she chooses to give it.  She does lots of preliminary drawings and then creates the final drawing from her knowledge of the subject, not by copying a specific plant.  She encouraged us to engage all our senses by drawing a piece of a cotton plant contained in a paper bag without looking at it - an interesting challenge.  I’ll admit to learning a lot about cotton as well as about Hilary’s unique compositional approach by the end of the day. 

The presentations by the 2009 ASBA Artists and Education Grant recipients, which are funded by ASBA’s Silent Auction, followed. It was amazing to see the challenges some of these artists face, traveling to remote locations and working under daunting conditions. The educational component of these grants, in one case, teaching botanical art to children in Brazil, were touching and inspiring. 

Saturday we awoke to a clear blue sky and much cooler temperatures – a perfect day for an outing to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater! Having known of the famous house for decades, it was wonderful to tour it with fellow artists and our knowledgeable guide. Each room has its own balcony area, which encouraged occupants to spend as much time outside as in. The house feels organic, growing out of the native rock. 

Saturday saw other members participating in a wealth of activities offered, including workshops, lectures and outings. 

The Pittsburgh Athletic Association, a private city club boasting fabulous architecture, housed the evening auction and banquet. We gathered drinks and nibbles and then moved into the auction area. Dick Rauh reminded us in booming voice heard over the hubbub that the Silent Auction proceeds are an important portion of our annual income, supporting both the Journal and the Artist and Education Grants. He encouraged us to bid early and often! The original art attracted a great deal of attention and we had a wide selection of prints, books, wonderful miniatures, and other interesting goodies to consider as well. 

Sue Wyble and her committee from the Allegheny Highlands Botanical Art Society, and Lugene Bruno, her assistant Cate Hammond, and the Hunt Institute received thanks for their role in making this Conference a success. A new chapter, Northern California Society of Botanical Artists, was officially recognized (the ninth!) and the 2010 grants were announced. This year the list includes the new Julius I. Brown Award, a $3000 grant honoring our outgoing treasurer and funded by his family. The Award was given to Michael May Jerome for a project using botanical art as a tool for providing employment and building the wellbeing of a group of mentally challenged adults in Spain (read more about the Grant Awards starting on page 3). 

The Awards Committee tapped Anita Walsmit Sachs of The Netherlands with the ASBA Award for Botanical Art in the Service of Science while the Diane Bouchier Founder’s Award for Excellence in Botanical Art went to Karen Kluglein of New York. 

The most moving moment among the awards, however, was the announcement that the ASBA Award for Service to Botanical Art has been renamed the James J. White Award, commemorating the many contributions to our art form by the former art curator of the Hunt Institute of Botanical Documentation. Fittingly, it was presented to Lugene Bruno, his able successor in that role. 

The evening and the conference concluded with a lovely tribute to Julius Brown. Executive Director Robin Jess and several board members spoke about his many years as treasurer. Again and again the themes of his wit, intelligence, generosity and warmth emerged. It is very clear that all who come in contact with “Julie” are very fond of him. He has watched over our young organization with wisdom and solicitous attention. He will be greatly missed. 

And so, too quickly, another conference was over. It was time to say farewell to old friends and new, until we gather again next year in Boston, in the season of “autumn mists and mellow fruitfulness.”

  • Martin Allen demonstrates his methods during the Technique Showcase, with videographer projecting every move!
  • Billie Showell signs The A to Z of Flower Portraits and gives members early access to her newest book.
  • Barbara de Gregorio captured in intense focus at the Hunt opening.
  • Joan McGann discusses her stunning pen and ink cactus portrait.
  • Artists' Reception at the Hunt
  • Wendy Hollender autographs he recent Random ouse release, Botanical Drawing in Color
  • Silent auction