Wildflower Watch

Rare, But Really Well Done

By Carol Till

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist - Volume 17, Issue 1


What started as an idea for an exhibition to energize our chapter members blossomed into an ambitious program which did much to promote both plant conservation and our work as botanical artists. Rare, Imperiled Plants of Colorado traveled to four locations around the region (Colorado and Utah), carrying the message that these plants need our help and protection if they are to survive. Conservation groups were delighted to have a way to bring attention to these imperiled plants with our display of 40 illustrations. 

In addition to its success in promoting conservation, this project also proved to be useful in building professional skills of our members. We learned how to source and illustrate plants that are not easy to find. Our artists proved to be very resourceful in finding materials or botanists who could help them, building bridges between art and science in a very personal way. 

In the fall of 2007, as new Exhibit Manager for the Rocky Mountain Society of Botanical Artists, I was looking for a way to more actively engage more of our approximately 100 members. Generally fewer than a dozen members attended our quarterly meetings and only about 20 participated in exhibits. Our mission statement calls for educating the public to the “…rationale for preservation of plant species through botanical art that is relevant to the region.” This also meshed well with the objectives of ASBA’s Losing Paradise? exhibition, in planning at the same time. Few of our members enter ASBA exhibits. I thought that having a local juried exhibition would be a great way for our members to learn about entering a juried show. 

I discovered an online Master List to Colorado’s Rare Plants managed by the Colorado Natural Heritage program. Over 400 plants are listed there, which gave us an abundant number of subjects from which to choose. A group of 20 agencies had recently formed the Colorado Rare Plant Conservation Initiative. They were thrilled to have RMSBA as a member, and they were extraordinarily supportive of our exhibition. Every state has a Natural Heritage Program that maintains information about rare and endangered plants. See www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/rareplants/resources.shtml

A key to selling this project to our own group was to enlist a core of our most active members who committed to drawing the rarest of our plants, a dozen listed by the Endangered Species Act. We asked artists to commit to a specific plant and kept a database of selected plants. That enthusiastic core group provided encouragement and support to less experienced members. About 80% of those who committed submitted a piece, so we learned early, always solicit more artwork than you think you need. 

Finding venues required a simultaneous selling effort, as sites have to be confirmed prior to juroring. Forty pieces was the exhibition cohort goal I selected – large enough to make an impact, but not so large that finding 40 pieces of merit would be overly daunting. I prepared a professional proposal in an easy to handle binder describing the purpose of the exhibition, our artists and group. Susan Rubin and Constance Sayas suggested that uniform framing would make a more professional appearance, and I included that in the proposal. Galleries especially liked that we had a theme (conservation), was nicely packaged with uniform frames and was juried. 

Gallery managers were also interesting in programs and lectures to complement the exhibition, and proposals for education and workshops were included in the offering. Conservation agencies helped by having biologists available at the openings, provided speakers and promoted the exhibit within their organizations and literature. Denver Botanic Gardens worked with RMSBA to produce a catalog which features the artwork, as well as information about each rare plant. The catalog pages were so rich with information that two of the venues used them as exhibit labels. Over 300 copies of the catalog sold, with a second printing now selling well. 

There are expenses in moving artworks and RMSBA at the time of building the exhibition did not have non-profit status. Our artists were better at making things than asking for money. So, we decided to sell merchandise to finance necessary costs, sharing profits with contributing artists. The artists agreed to allow the use of their images in both the catalog and in producing greeting cards. We organized the images into five geographical regions, sorted into sets with a card from each region and packaged them in boxes. We produced t-shirts printed with the exhibit slogan “Rare, but Really Well Done.” Members were also able to profit by selling giclée prints at the openings and while the artwork was hung. 

We had committees who got bids, organized printing, packaging and sales of products. By requiring a high resolution .jpg with the entry, we could use a single image for the jury, cards and catalog. 

A framing committee did all of the matting and framing. They selected a simple maple frame, 16x20” and custom matted all accepted artwork to fit in that vertical format. Bubblewrap envelopes were made to protect the frames when shipped. Boxing was rejected as being too costly and bulky. Our members drove the artwork between venues, and the uniform sizing made packing easy. The entire exhibition fit in the back of a standard SUV. 

Although difficult to find, we were able to get ‘Commercial Inland Marine Insurance’ through Travelers. The artwork was insured by each venue while hung, but since our members were driving the artwork over mountain passes, I wanted to make sure it was covered during transportation. Some venues will cover transporting and insuring an exhibit incoming or outgoing. 

Even though the exhibition closed in September of 2010, demand for and sales of exhibit merchandise continues.  We have reprinted some of the cards and are planning a third printing of the catalog.

I encourage other groups to plan a program to promote conservation with their botanical art. RMSBA is now a respected member of our state’s conservation community. They are looking forward to our continuing participation in promoting plant conservation. How rewarding is that for a group of artists.

  • (C) 2008 Carol Till
  • RARE on display at the Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado
  • Representative page of catalog, (C) 2007 Annie Reiser
  • Sales table at the Denver Botanic Gardens reception