“If winter is here, can spring be far behind?” This might be the theme for the Plant Life exhibitions currently on display in the Paper Gallery of the Museum of Art. This exhibit offers a number of works which are inspired by the world of botany. The natural world is depicted in this collection ranging from herbals from 16th Century Western Europe through modern etchings.
Herbalists advised, in 1597 that, “there will be diverse herbs comprehended under the title of Fumitorie, some wilde, some with bulbous or tuberous rootes.” The common, or purple Fumitorie is drawn alongside the less common, white variety in a hand colored woodcut, the first item on display. Herbals were used for medicinal purposes as well as garden plants in the15th and 16th Centuries.
Groupings include an “Hodgsonia Heterclita,” done in sepia tone by Sir J. Dalton Hooker in 1855. This work bears a similarity to Georgia O”Keefe”s sensual renderings of exploding seed pods and opulent flower petals. An aqua print freesia by Donald Sutton, and Olivia Parker”s glorious “Two Cyclamen,” complete the spring ensemble.
An etching and aquatint of “Apple Blossoms, 20th Century” was done by Leonard Baskin. Baskin was also a noted sculptor. His Holocaust remembrance piece stands at the east corner of the Rackham Building. Next to this piece is “Sunflower III,” by Joan Mitchell, a color aquatint.
Riotous colors surround the sunflower, an evocation of summer heat and nature”s palette. Johannes Teyler”s “Bowl of Flowers” is a tease, as well.
Reds, yellows, purples tumble from a glass bowl, with saucy tendrils toppling along the sides. Ikeda Zuigitsu presents a color woodblock block, entitled “Dendrobrium Wardianum,” a minimalist representation of flowered branches, with the often paradoxical least, yet fullest of detail. “Monument Valley, 1982” is William Lemke”s gelatin silver print, suggesting California and the Sonoran Desert in warm, sunny climates.
To further nudge the travel bug, there is a platinum palladium print by Lois Connor of Yangshoo, China. A reach into the past brings the viewer to Palermo-the Botanic Garden, Avenue of the Palms, done on albumen print by Giorgio Sommer, in 1870. Both prints are alluring with their call to far away places.
Expression of the natural world remains an inspiration for the creative and scientific communities. Herbals, seedpods, and flowers are sources of life and study for the botanist and artist. Our physical and social lives are enhanced each day by the presence of plants in all seasons. For this wintry season, with slush, snow, high winds and sleet, a trip into the plant world offers a welcome respite and a sign of the spring days ahead.