Focus on New England Chapter

Native Plants Exhibit Grows to Include More Artists and Educational Activities   
 
It is a truth universally acknowledged that organizing a botanical art exhibit takes twice as long as expected and ten times the effort. But who would have guessed that one exhibit would turn into 12? That’s what happened when the New England Society of Botanical Artists decided to create a juried show of native plant portraits to travel throughout New England.
 
Inspired by Kathie Miranda’s 2010 ASBA Conference talk about a Connecticut traveling exhibit, and knowing that many venues prefer juried exhibits, our board approved our first chapter-wide juried show.  We decided a theme of native New England plants would also raise our chances of getting into good venues. And we were smart enough to plan very far out—nearly three years, in fact.  
 
We sent out a preliminary call for entry to give artists two (brief!) New England summers to find and work on a specimen. Our core exhibit team (Kay Kopper and Kelly Radding) held monthly teleconferences to go over the task list and identify critical phases from the seemingly trivial (find a website on New England native plants) to the critical (find venues!). The preliminary call required much discussion because we decided to have identical frames in varying sizes: 18” x 24” and “24 x 30”.  
 
Turns out there was no New England native plants website (one now exists, plus a great book) and many artists were convinced their specimens were native for any number of reasons, the most charming of which is: because the Wampanoag Indians showed the Pilgrims how to plant it (pumpkin). But pumpkin seeds arrived in New England after 1492, the ‘native’ cutoff year. NESBA member and botanist Dr. Elizabeth Farnsworth helped us decide whenever uncertainty arose. Meanwhile the two frame sizes discouraged artists who work on small wild plants—so we added two smaller sizes.  
 
A botanical artist (Carol Woodin), a non-botanical artist, and a botanist juried the show and selected 60 images. My most heart-wrenching task was informing artists their piece was not juried in.  
 
To soften that blow and to widen participation we organized a companion exhibit for each venue: non-juried, any subject, open to artists within each venue’s state. Our first one at The Art Complex, Duxbury MA had 21 pieces by Massachusetts artists including beach roses and yes, pumpkin. Thus the initial six-state exhibit turned into 12—two in each venue. Oddly enough, although we approached over two dozen venues, we did not find one in New Hampshire, so we declared the Montshire Museum in Norwich VT to be the VT/NH venue with companion pieces by artists in both states. The sixth site is a public library’s gallery in Bedford MA.
 
Through the 2013 Julius I. Brown grant, we hire professionals to give talks, demonstrations and classes, on topics chosen by the venue curators to bring botanical art to their patrons. So far we have funded a history of botanical art lecture, a nature journaling workshop, and two gallery talks; we will host more at upcoming venues including Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens, the Audubon Environmental Education Center, Bristol RI, and Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens by the summer of 2014.