Botanical Art / by Jeannine Cook

Botanical art is enjoying a great resurgence in popularity and appreciation. The British, Australians and some Europeans had continued always to favour this form of art, partly, perhaps, because of the strong horticultural and plant collection/husbandry tradition. Kew Gardens and other important botanical gardens round the world had kept alive the tradition of fine art married to botany. However, with the founding of the American Society of Botanical Artists in 1995, this art form took off. Another decisive factor in this renaissance has been the enthusiastic and hugely influential support of Dr.Shirley Sherwood. Not only has she collected botanical art all over the world and helped artists most generously, but she has now enabled Kew Gardens to have the world's first gallery devoted to botanical art, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery . (I am proud to say that she owns one of my silverpoint drawings.)

With increasing interest in botanical art, the ASBA has been organising important exhibitions around the United States. The Society, to which I have belonged for many years, has become more and more imaginative in exhibit themes and attuned to today's environmental concerns. A show which has just opened at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, demonstrates this: "Losing Paradise? Endangered Plants Here and Around the World" shows art done by forty-one artists from the five continents. The exhibit has already travelled to the Missouri Botanic Garden, the Chicago Botanic Garden and the New York Botanical Garden.

Using the simplest of media - graphite pencils, pen and ink, coloured pencils and paint - the artists not only captured the essence of the plant but they document its structure, habit of growth, colouration and general characteristics in exquisite, accurate detail. Again, as with so many works of art done from real life, as opposed to photographs, each artist creates an individualistic interpretation of the subject matter, combining artistic skill with the energy and passion inspired by that plant. In the case of this particular exhibition, there was an additional energy. The Society posted the call for this exhibition about three years previously, so that artists all around the world could seek out endangered plants and help draw attention to their plight by the art created. What more enlightened role could art play!