The Expanding Universe

By Carol Woodin

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 18, Issue 3


In surveying the botanical art universe, what is becoming clear is that an exhibition on its own is a great thing, but an exhibition built with a constellation of amplifications is even better. In addition to bringing in waves of visitors to the exhibition, it widens the appeal of the show, and increases its educational impact.

Often alliances can be built with individuals and groups with similar goals. This not only increases our reach, but leads to the improvement of our own work as we learn more about our subjects. These expansions can include workshops and demonstrations for children and adults, gallery talks, inviting gardeners or designers, holding local food tastings, field trips, or conferences, collaborating with other groups, and many others.

It’s true, the exhibitions themselves are elucidating, not only for the public, but for we artists as well. The more you know about what other artists are creating, the better prepared you will be when submitting your own work to be juried.

There is no better teacher than seeing an exhibition of original botanical art. As you all know, there are many opportunities to see others’ work around the country and the world. But there’s also the flipside – that of playing the role of teacher, and showing others what you’ve learned, both artistically and botanically, by participating in such a project.

Elsewhere in this issue are several chances to be one of those artists on view. The exhibition following in the Bartrams’ Footsteps will be traveling to 3 venues and potentially 2 more.  This exhibition will be seen by gallery-goers throughout the eastern US, and will reach new audiences. We are hoping to receive a large number of interesting submissions to choose from, and to tell the best story we can through plants and art relating to the Bartrams.

Whether one looks at the plant list and chooses their own personal favorites, or investigates the background stories of their subjects to learn their interesting route through botany, it will inevitably lead to a deepening understanding of the Bartrams, American botany, and the particular subject plant. One artist mentioned researching a plant given by Benjamin Franklin to John Bartram in 1770, an heirloom variety she was able to locate with some effort through her local Seed Savers Exchange group. 

Some venues hosting the exhibition will be adding their own expansions of the exhibition, and tying it into conferences and milestones relating to the Bartrams. This exhibition has produced a great deal of excitement among artists and venues alike, many of whom have been admirers and students of the Bartrams for many years and have longed for a vehicle through which their story can be told. Help tell that story and the story of contemporary botanical art by depicting something that has caught your fancy by the entry deadline of January 11, just a few months away! 

Artists are already thinking about Weird, Wild, and Wonderful as well. Several artists have enquired about various subjects to learn whether they would qualify. One can never anticipate a jury’s decision, so what matters is that you find it visually weird, wild, and wonderful. A stroll through life’s garden leads to unanticipated discoveries of all sorts, some naturally occurring and others anomalies, and one is never too jaded to be surprised.  Be prepared when that subject comes your way, keep your eyes open and tools at the ready. Although the entry deadline seems far away, only a year remains to produce something special. We look forward to your surprises with great anticipation.