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Monday 30 June 2008

Painting for Joy at the Cornell Museum and Jasper Johns and Carol Diehl on Art

Winter Park is lucky to have quite a few museums and most we have visited but one we had never quite got round to was the Cornell Museum of Fine Arts which is on the campus of Rollins College. Yesterday we rectified that. There is an elegant exhibition space on the extensive campus, over looking one of Orlando's many lakes. They have exhibits old and new, beautifully displayed and with the added attraction of few people......but really this is just an excuse to share this painting with you. It comes from the current exhibition "Painting for Joy" ( what a great title) which showcases the work of nine contemporary Japanese artists.

This big painting " Dog" 65 x 53 inches by Takanobu Kobayashi is just adorable.

There is also an exhibition "Corps Exquis" exploring images of the body from different periods with an extraordinary film of Vanessa Beecroft's "VB55" installation of 100 women, naked from the waist up standing in a gallery for 3 hours staged in Berlin in 200. It is a strange and moving film (see a youtube video here ) accompanied by Mozart's Requiem. (but as the very enlightened lady guide so rightly said.. "you couldn't show this in Orlando. This is a very conservative state")
More about Cornell and their exhibitions here and no doubt I will be going back there.

Also today, a quote from Jasper Johns telling it how it is about creativity without, mercifully, the need to fall into appalling contemporary artspeak.

"It's simple. You just take something, and then you do something to it. Then you do something else to it. And then something else. Keep this up and pretty soon you've got something."

A couple of months ago there was a big commotion when the artist and art writer Carol Diehl dared to draw attention to the 'emperors new clothes' syndrome of the art "writers" at the Whitney. I just hate that self perpetuating rubbish they write about art. If the art is so bad and banal itself that it has to be propped up with incomprehensible jargon, then it shouldn't be even on display. The whole argument had me cheering Carol on. The over intellectualising of visual art is such a monster these days. She recently questioned Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth , the crack in the floor of the Tate Modern, which was billed as " addressing a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world.” "Sometimes" she says "a crack is just a crack." How true..
To read more about it all go to her blog, the excellent Art Vent

One of the problems of course is that our future curators are currently being brainwashed with artspeak at art colleges all over the world. As I know only too well and to my cost, to stand up in a lecture theatre and to question such rubbish even from an extensively researched and informed standpoint will result in some icy cold shouldering of those tutors whose fragile and insecure campus world is precariously fabricated from artspeak alone. You will be regarded from then on as an ungrateful dog biting the hand that was feeding you your passport to a well paid arts funded job in the self perpetuating, self aggrandising world of the fine art academic.

I remember one dull and wispy fine art graduate came to give us new hopefulls a lecture of her most recent and fragrant work about faeces. I asked one tutors later if 'faeces' and 'facecious' came from from the same orifice. He was not amused, he also said on one a occasion that he found painting flowers an obscenity. Hey I don't defend what I am currently doing as 'fine art' these days but at least it is honest and does what it says on the tin. But wait!! .... if flower painting ever does become pornography I would at least make some money.

Painting for Joy? well why not?

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Sunday 29 June 2008

Leaf of the Day: Spiky Chinkapin Oak Burs, and an early life in Missouri.

A couple of studies of the spiky, very sharp burs of the Chinkapin Oak Quercus muehlenbergii
The curious name really applies to the chestnut tree which is known as the Chincapin, Chinkapin or Chinquapin. According to the dictionaries it is probably a modification of the Algonquian word "chechinquamin" meaning chinquapin nut ? Hmm that seems to take me round in circles.
The muehlenbergii part of its Latin name comes from Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg 1753-1815 who was an American clergyman and botanist, and while being, no doubt a worthy pastor, he is best-known as a botanist. A genus of well known ornamental grasses the Muhlenbergia, was named in his honor.

The studies, one in watercolour and one in gouache show what remains of the flower spike and the young burs. The flowers which were small and yellowish, clustered into the spike-like catkin have shrivelled up and the fruit, coated with slender, hairy, 1/2-inch spines forms the protective nut bur. It is quite a deterrent. When ripe the burs split to release a brown, single, solitary, round, glossy delicious nut.
These are very palatable to a variety of animals, including us and are useful as a friendly food source for urban wildlife.

In the archives of Springfield Library Archives, Missouri, I came across this touching account of the life of a country man Jim Chastain, he is recalling his early life. and eating chinkapin nuts amongst many other things. I make no apology for quoting this long passage.

" I was never was born. The buzzards laid me on a stump and the sun hatched me! I'm eighty-three years old and I spent the most of my life in Laclede County. I was born in 1897 on December 15 in the Hazel-dell District. They told me that there was five or six inches of snow, ice and sleet on the ground that morning. Our family made a living by going out to the fields with a double shovel and a single shovel and plowing the ground up with a turning plow. We planted corn, oats, wheat, turnips, potatoes, cabbage, parsnips and all of that kind of stuff.
We had peach, apple and pear trees, and we took the fruit off them. We also had seedless peaches in every corner of the fence. My mother made peach butter, apple butter and wild blackberry preserves. We dried the peaches and apples out on the slope of the house or on two trestles. We picked persimmons and my mother cooked them, took the seeds out of them and mashed them through a culler, took the peeling off of them and made persimmon preserves. We went out in the woods and gathered grapes and made grape butter, jelly and canned grapes.
We got our water from a spring. It never even once dried up. You couldn't take a scoop shovel and dry it up, either. Now they don't even want to drink out of a spring or anything. That's the purest water on earth. We kept lard, milk and butter in a spring branch in a box, the water running through that spring.
We butchered our own hogs so we had meat. We had meat in the smokehouse smoked with hickory wood and a little sassafras.
We had always put out a cane patch and my daddy made molasses every fall for other people. We had a fifty gallon barrel of sorghum, or molasses, whichever one you wanted to call it. We had a fifty gallon barrel of kraut and a fifty gallon barrel of cucumber pickles.
We ate hickory nuts and walnuts, black walnuts. A lot of people calls them butternuts and then the black walnuts. We ate them and then we got chinquapin acorns. We got that and parched it on the stove hearth and eat it like popcorn. You put a little bit of ashes in the bottom of a stove hearth, and you put them acorns in there and a little bit of ashes over them just enough to cover them. Then you rake live coals out on them and let them cook. You take that outer burr off, but let the shell stay on. After they're roasted, they tasted awful good to a kid in them days. Might not want to eat one of them now.
Also, you could take that burr acorn, and if you knew how, you would take a knife and you could make the most beautiful basket that you ever saw in your life. You turn the acorn upside down and leave that fuzzy hull down here. It has a little hull around the top of it. Cut down on each side and cull it out and dig that out of there, and you've got one of the most beautiful baskets you ever saw in your life. "

The article is fascinating. Go and read more here

These lovely trees are also host to the Gray Hairstreak butterfly, a really beautiful low key butterfly .

a great picture and more from Duke University here

Sometimes botanical language makes me laugh. I read somewhere it is regarded as a "precocious" tree.. meaning it produces nuts early in its life cycle, somehow the idea of a tree being precocious is endearing. I made the first sketch 2 days ago and in that time the colour changed and it started to dry out, so the second sketch is different and in gouache just for a change!

Chinquapin Oak Burs

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Saturday 28 June 2008

Leaf of the Day: Frog disturbed nights and the Acalypha Fire Dragon

I have been to Leu today and to my delight have found a Ginkgo tree... leaf to follow soon. Also I took a photo of a beautiful large green/brown frog which was by the pond in the Arid Garden, one of many, whose friends and relations are disturbing the gentile peace of Winter Park these hot and humid nights.

My photo from this am, variety not known yet.

Because, with the now daily and torrential rain, has come the astonishingly loud nightly croaking of the local frogs. There are 32 species of frogs and toads in Florida and I think they are all right here at our apartment block. There must have been a My Space invitation for some midnight revelries at Killarney Bay. Even Florida locals, tired of the raucous partying ring up the council to see if anything can be done.

Gary Morse, spokesman for the Lakeland office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission explains;

"The nocturnal symphony," he said, "is one of the many quirky aspects of living in a state that has alligators, urban coyotes, sharks, hurricanes, lightning and sinkholes. The rain will pass before too long, he said, and so too, will the frog noise. Until then, try to endure", he counseled.
"The more damp it is at night, the happier they are and the louder they croak," Morse said. "Loud frogs are part of the price you pay to live in a place like Florida."
More from the Tampa Bay Chronicle here

But frogs are delightful, and here they are extremely useful as they eat mosquito lava. The ones that make the noise are most likely to be various species of tree frogs.The Cuban variety probably the main culprit .. big latino party animal this. They are the biggest and noisiest with voracious appetites, hoovering up almost anything they can overpower and according to Wiki, they are also believed to cause power outages by sitting on transformers on electrical poles.

image from here
I miss my small froggy UK pond, I hope my frogs are thriving..

My leaf today is a gorgeous leaf, blousey and ruffled like a harlequin's collar, and is one of the many varieties of Acalypha wilkesiana whose leaves are decorative and multicoloured. They vary widely in leaf shape, size and colour and are known by many different names, Joesph's coat, Match me if you can, and Copperleaf. They are from the extensive spurge family Euphorbiaceae . To me, like the croton, its leaf is more interesting in isolation and away from the colourful muddle of the whole plant. To see the real beauty of the structure you need to see the leaves in isolation.

The drawing is actually of 1 leaf and 1 flower spike. The flowers are tiny and are held protected by the curl of the smaller part of the leaf, which itself nestles close into the larger leaf blade. The little leaf is a lopsided shape as well and curves in the opposite direction to the larger leaf. The veins are red.
I made a few scans of the drawing as I went along. It's interesting to see how it develops. I had to keep the leaf in the fridge overnight which it seemed to enjoy, but if I continue on to a colour version I will have to get another one. But I have so many other things to do ..


Acalypha Fire dragon

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Friday 27 June 2008

Leaf of the Day: Two White Oak Leaves and The Bowthorpe Oak

We humans are slight things in comparison to oaks. It is humbling to stand by an old oak. Their life span may be as much as seven or eight hundred years and I find it interesting that they are not particularly a northern tree as we Brits tend to think, with our great symbolic oak forests and our heart- of-oak fighting ships and the supports of our great cathedrals. In fact the majority of them live between only 15 degrees and 30 degrees north. That is Mexico, Central America and Yunnan.

There is however one splendid oak not far from my home in Linconshire, the Bowthorpe Oak. Its age is not really known but was recorded in 1768 to have been " in the same state of decay since the memory of the older inhabitants and their ancestors. " The great trunk was hollowed out so that the Squire of Bowthorpe could sit down to dine with 20 friends,

The Bowthorpe Oak. Photo from the Ancient Tree Hunt site here

I am discovering so many lovely oak trees here in Orlando. Some with leaves that are similar to the English oak to the small narrow leathery leaves of the Live oak. Here are two leaves that I collected the other day, one from the Chinquapin Oak Quercus muhlenbergii and the other from the Durand Oak Quercus durandii. The Chinquapin is a confusing tree as it has spiny pods more like a chestnut, and leaves that look more like beech than oak... Sometimes the tags in the garden get moved around, misplaced or faded but this one is clear, it is definitely an oak.
I am in the middle of making a study of the Chinquapin Oak's spiny pod which I gathered at some personal injury. These are in fact both white oaks which are distinguished from red oaks in that the leaf veins in red oaks extend outwards to form bristles on the ends of the leaf lobes. White oaks generally produce larger acorns than red oaks, some quite sweet and used as important food stuff by the indigenous Indians. I am waiting for the Chinquapin nuts to mature and then, first purchasing some armoured gloves to try to get at the nut, will give them a try.

And here is another interesting botanical term tyloses, this is another distinguishing factor of White Oaks over Red.
Tyloses are bubble-like tissues from adjacent wood cells that invade and block the large pores in the wood and so block water and air. The presence of tyloses in white oaks makes the wood watertight, which is why it is preferred for barrels used to store wine and whiskey and shipbuilding, to red oak, which lacks tyloses and does not hold water.


White Oak Leaves

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Thursday 26 June 2008

Leaf of the Day: Southern Live Oak and What is a Leaf?

After all the fanciful myth and superstition of the last couple of days it is time for some facts. I have now been looking at leaves for almost 6 months, admittedly in a rather haphazard way, just picking up bits of information and understanding here and there. Having been a side line observer before, I am now constantly amazed by the diversity, beauty and structure of my backroom boys, so what is a leaf and what does it do? I have been trying to get things clear in my head so may as well post it all too.

What is a leaf.
In botany a leaf is an above-ground plant organ specialized for photosynthesis. For this purpose, a leaf is typically flat (laminar) and thin, to expose the cells containing chloroplast to light over a broad area, and to allow light to penetrate fully into the tissues. Leaves are also the sites in most plants where transpiration and guttation ( moisture loss) take place. Leaves can store food and water and are modified in some plants for other purposes. The comparable structures of ferns are normally referred to as fronds.
A typical leaf has a broad, expanded blade (lamina), attached to the stem by a stalk like petiole. Veins transport materials to and from the leaf tissues, radiating from the petiole through the blade. They are arranged in a netlike pattern in dicot leaves and are parallel in monocot leaves.In conifers, evergreen needles, which are a type of leaf, persist for two or three years.

There seem to be many different types of bract to me and often they look like part of the flower.
A bract is a modified or specialized leaf. They are often reduced in size relative to foliage leaves, or of a different color or texture, or both. Some bracts are brightly colored and serve the function of attracting pollinators and an excellent example of this occurs in the poinsettia plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima), dogwoods and bougainvillea.

A spathe is a large bract that forms a sheath to enclose the flower cluster of certain plants such as palms and arums. In many arums, the spathe is petal-like, attracting pollinators to the flowers which arranged on a type of spike called a spadix.

Scale leaf : a reduced leaf, often dry, non-photosynthetic, and protective, e.g. surrounding a dormant bud, a budscale.

Scales can refer to a number of things. Typically, they refer to the small opaque but generally not green structures that cover the terminal buds during the winter...and piano practice.

Scale-like leaves are very small and green. They may be overlapping and clothe the twig of plants like junipers, and cedars.

Modified stem leaves and spiny leaves.
Spines are leaves too...Cactus Spines are highly modified, non-photosynthetic leaves. Most Cacti produce minute photosynthetic leaves which are ephemeral and contribute virtually nothing to the overall photosynthesis of the plant. The cactus stem performs virtually all of the photosynthesis for the plant.
Cacti leaves or Pads are really modified stems and are referred to as cladodes.

I drew a cladode before when I was looking at butchers broom. Cladodes too are flattened stems. In the Ruscus hypoglossum the real leaves are around the little flower that appears to be growing out of a leaf!

Slender, twining modified leaf or stem used for clinging to objects for support. (Grape, Cucumber, Passionflower, Grape Ivy)
The tendrils of a piece of climbing Bauhinia I drew endearingly twined themselves around the handle of the cup I had put it in. This action is called circumnutation and was coined by Darwin in his work "On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants"

There are more, Catapylls, seem to be "The early leaf -forms of a plant or shoot, as cotyledons, bud-scales, rhizom-scales, etc. I am not clear what a Phylloclade is yet.

I wish there was one really good book I could buy which would explain with diagrams and examples. I guess there is, but time to look is limited and it's the sort of book you need to see before buying. Instead I am building up a small library of images of the different plant structures so that I can really get the hang of it... you will be relieved to know I won't be posting them all...

For my leaf today, as I am having a bit of basic revision, I am revisiting my first leaf ..the Southern Live Oak, the first drawing I tentatively made in January. This tree is so important to Orlando and adds grace and leafy beauty to the lakeside streets. There is a huge oak tree close to the Art Museum, its branches elegantly resting on the ground decorated with dancing little Resurrection ferns.

I have been to Leu today and seen some really exciting things but on the way out this little sprig of leaves landed at my feet. I have drawn it, in its chewed and nibbled state. I don't think there is one really perfect leaf there. I like it that way, just as it is.

Southern Live Oak

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Wednesday 25 June 2008

Leaf of the Day: St John's Wort and Midsummers Day

The 24th Of June is the old Midsummer’s day and also the celebration day of St John the Baptist. The decision to link this particular day with St John was, I think, the Christian way of trying to woo the almost god-fearing away from their deeply rooted pagan celebrations.

Our own mini St Juan in Spain.

In Spain, St Juan is celebrated with bonfires and burning an effigy. If there is a beach nearby people will link hands and rush into the sea at midnight. It’s a wonderful sight which we saw a couple of times in Andalucía. If no sea is at hand then a pond will serve just as well and we celebrated at a local restaurant near the village one year where the burning effigy was plunged into the water of the pond at midnight to the accompaniment of fireworks and much cheering. The water from the pond was a handed round in small dishes for us to splash over our faces thereby guaranteeing enduring beauty. Well I can’t make any comment on its effectiveness!

On the Feast of St. John, it was customary to gather the perennial herb St. John's Wort. It is another plant surrounded by many myths and legends and hopeful cures. Its fierce anti evil properties were enhanced by burning it in the midsummer bonfires, symbolising purification of crops and communities and since medieval times the herb has been hung over doors, windows and icons to keep witches and other potentially harmful spirits away. The juice from the stems is blood red, giving rise to an old belief that the leaf spots would ooze blood on August 29th, the day on which John the Baptist was executed, or that the spots would only first appear on that day.

Hypericum perforatum . In ancient Greece St. John's wort was called hyperikon. It seems to mean 'over an apparition', or ‘above an image’ referring to its protective use for icons, doors and windows. The perforatum part of the name comes from the many tiny translucent dots in the leaves, which look like holes if held up to the light. There are also black dots on the leaves and sometimes a reddish tinge to the edges of the leaves.

It is well known to the herbal medicine enthusiasts and it is mainly used, and held in high regard by many herbalists, for the treatment of nervous conditions, sleeplessness and depression. Hippocrates recommended its use for "nervous unrest" so maybe the medieval use of Hypericum to ward off the demons of melancholy was not as fanciful as we might think.

Unfortunately, as many will know who are country dwellers it is also poisonous. Also known as ragwort it is a hazard to livestock. The active ingredient is hypericin, a phototoxin that travels to the skin after ingestion creates inflammation of the skin and can result in secondary infections and can be fatal.
However to combat this now invasive weed enter the pretty shiny beetle the Klamath weed beetle. .

In California they had a problem with St Johns Wort and in 1947 they introduced the beetle with remarkable results. In about 7 years the beetle's voracious appetite had reduced the plant to only 1% of its original population. This was such cause for celebration that a huge stone monument was erected in Eureka to the beetle's honour.

The most interesting thing leaf wise are the spots. The translucent ones are colourless layers of essential plant oils and resin.
The black dots are thought to be the source of the chemical and when rubbed between the fingers, they leave a red deposit. My little sketch today is more by way of a diagram. It's a fascinating plant and these spots are reminiscent of the nectaries on the passionflower leaves but have quite a different function.

St John's Wort Leaf

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Tuesday 24 June 2008

Leaf of the Day: Midsummer`s Eve and the Fishtail Sword Fern

I could fill pages and pages of this blog with gorgeous images, superstitions, poetry and folklore about this magical and unruly night. The night of the faeries in all their whimsy, mischief and malevolence. If ever I had childish dreams of being an actress it was 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' that had me enthralled. The problem with attending an all girls school of course is that someone has to play the male roles...and someone has to play Bottom. My teacher said it was a key role and needed the talents of a fine actress...Ah well was better than being a voice off stage and I got to make my very own lovely papier mache head.

Arthur Rackham, 'Titania and Bottom'

I was steeped in fairy stories as a child having constantly read two ancient and now crumbling books of Old English Fairy Tales illustrated by J D Batten. If I had to trace back the real roots of my love of illustration, black and white images, and storytelling it has to be these two volumes of dark and cautionary tales where every narrative is heavily laden with the dire consequences of taking the 'wrong road' in every sense.

Robert Edward Hughes 'Midsummer Night'

The 23rd of June is the old Midsummer's Eve and the night of the year when 'faerie' spirits are especially powerful and flowers gathered on Midsummer's Eve can work magic. Puck uses pansy juice as a love potion to wreak some romantic havoc (see also my post on pansies.) Cutting a rose on Midsummer's Eve drying it, and then wearing it on New Year's Eve will draw the attention of the young man you are destined to marry. Wear some thyme, scatter thistles round your cows to stop the faeries stealing the milk, .... and too many others to list.
A very well known practice was the sowing of hemp seed in order to then acquire a lover.

At eve last midsummer no sleep I sought,
But to the field a bag of hemp-seed brought;
I scatter'd round the seed on every side,
And three times in a trembling accent cried, --
"This hemp-seed with my virgin hands I sow,
Who shall my true love be, the crop shall mow."
I straight look'd back, and, if my eyes speak truth,
With his keen scythe behind me came the youth.

From John Gay's The Shepherd's Week, in Six Pastorals, first published in London, 1714.

A particularly chilling practice was recorded by Robert Hunt

If a young unmarried woman stands at midnight on midsummer-eve in the porch of the parish church, she will see, passing by in procession, every one who will die in the parish during the year. This is so serious an affair that it is not, I believe, often tried. I have, however, heard of young women who have made the experiment. But every one of the stories relates that, coming last in the procession, they have seen shadows of themselves; that from that day forward they have pined, and ere midsummer has again come round, that they have been laid to rest in the village graveyard.

Robert Hunt " The Drolls, Traditions, and Superstitions of Old Cornwall" 1871.

Images of fairies abound but none have really captured the strangeness and sense of 'other' as well the Victorian painters whose engagement with this world brought us some strange and wonderful works. For me one of the most compelling has to be Richards Dadd's "Fairy Fellas Masterstroke".. here is all the strangeness of fairyland rendered in meticulous detail in a painting containing all the unease of a restless laudanum induced sleep and harking back to the nightmare lands of Hieronymus Bosch.

I will be coming back to this painting in more needs to be looked at in detail, both the painter and the painting are fascinating and it has some interesting things to say, about plants as much as fairies.

But let's leave the dark side and let's be reassured that the true spirit of beauty and grace is still alive and well and that Shakespeare's heroine has found her most sublime embodiment in none other than the lovely Barbie..
At Amazon from a mere 139 dollars, New or "Used" (.. oh dear.. the mind boggles)...a collectors edition..
"Barbie is ethereal as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, from the ballet "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Barbie has long golden curling hair decorated with flowers. Her frothy costume is shimmering blue-green taffeta with a full tutu skirt in blue, green and pink. With tiny "wings" of taffeta, she appears to float. Tiny purple ballet slippers on her pointed toes let her dance into your heart."

This gorgeous silver label creature is awarded stars based on these telling criteria, "Fun" (oh dear) .. "Durability ( oh dear god no ) and "Educational" ( ?).
Satisfied customers are ecstatic and I am empathetic...

I am glad that she rates a full five stars for educational value for 'the link to Shakespeare's play Midsummer Nights Dream, and the chance to learn the play'
I am sad that " they did not give her Elven ears!.. after all she is the queen of the fairies! " ( which I first read as eleven ears and whoops! .. the product development team not attending to details here!!)
I am enchanted by her "Her rooted eyelashes and glittery eyeshadow which emphasize her lovely face. " and " the unique shape of her wings and the many layers of her fluffy tutu"
I am charmed by her "Classic sur la pointe pose in the toe shoes"

I am lost for words....

Carolyn, this will bring back fond memories of our bizarre former employment and Rebecca, you really need to get one of these as a visual aid for your students.

As for the drawing how can I compete.. but ferns play a big part in these Midsummer Eve superstitions. According to legend if you sprinkle some of the "seeds" in your shoes you will be able to achieve invisibility. and the same seeds are said to protect from evil spirits. Most interestingly, if you find the yellow golden fern flower, which allegedly blooms at midnight on Midsummer's Eve, you will be guided to treasure either by just throwing it in the air or climbing a mountain holding the flower.. Hmmm...well I won't be staying up... but I will sprinkle some of the tiny spores into my purse to help the money situation!
Here is a drawing of just one fern leaflet of the beautiful Nephrolepis falcata, the Fishtail Sword Fern. This is a very handsome fern with these big divided leaflets. This one has the sori .. shown as little bumps on the surface and more noticeable on the reverse.


The Fish Tale Sword Fern

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Monday 23 June 2008

Leaf of the Day: Begonia Seed Pod, the ASBA and the FSBA.

Part of the reason for the trip to Sarasota was to meet up with Phillip Phillips who runs the Florida Society of Botanical Artists (more info here ) who are in turn the Florida Chapter of the American Society of Botanical Artists. (More info here)
I have joined both of the societies which have wonderful artists in their membership and a huge variety of styles. Being a pod person I love this image by Dick Rauh of the Snake Root pods.. the Black Cohosh ..

I had met with Phillip before at the exhibition that the members of the Florida group had mounted in Sarasota on the theme of Native Florida Plants. The exhibition was lovely and here are 3 of Phillip's images. How nice to see a bit of wildlife. Thinks must paint more bugs and lizards.

Centrosema or butterfly pea (native)

Butterfly - Papilio lorquinianus albertii, Swallowtail, Mt Arfak, Irian Jaya, Indonesia

Saururus cernuus - Lizard's Tail (native)

As normal I should have paid more attention to the paintings instead of chatting but as I am out on a limb here (..oh dear, no botanical pun intended) it was so nice to talk to another botanical artist and know that others agonise about the quality of the paper and size of the brushes and other knotty problems of paint granulation and transparency etc etc. I am now looking for some more local inspiration for my drawings here at the Florida Native Plant Society.

As I have been away from the drawing board most of this weekend my contribution today is a very quick and modest seed pod of one of the Begonias in the garden.

Begonia Seed Pod

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Saturday 21 June 2008

The Ringling Museum. Spectacle and Mystery in Sarasota

This weekend I have had two unashamedly delightful non drawing days. We went to lovely Sarasota to breathe some sea air, to meet up with two painting friends and to see the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
In short the Ringling Museum is astonishing. Mostly because of its grandeur, its beautiful setting on Sarasota Bay, the value of its collections and of course the Circus Museum.
I quote from their publicity:

In 1927 John Ringling moved the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Sarasota. On Christmas Day, 1927, the Sarasota winter quarters opened its doors to visitors. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of people visited winter quarters, and it became the number one tourist attraction in the State.

I have very mixed feeling about the circus and I dislike performing animals especially, but as a small child if I ever felt like making a dash for freedom and life on the road with the travelling circus, it was after watching those wonderful circus movies of the 1950's, Cecil B DeMille's 'The Greatest Show on Earth' and 'Trapeze'. They evoked an exotic, dangerous and compelling life that rural Lincolnshire just did not have.

Our occasional small town circus never quite lived up to the glittering expectations of the films and the few last remaining romantic notions were shattered many years ago when I found myself in a laundrette sitting next to clown (minus costume) from a small travelling show who was washing the costumes of the performers and mending a broken pony harness while he waited. But these were not the silken bejewelled trapping of my childhood imagination but nylon, shabby and worn things, exposed as tawdry and garish in the unforgiving daylight and the unprepossessing surroundings of the Maytag Laundry.
However if any stirring of old longings and evocations of the splendour and lure of the travelling show can be conjured up in this grey world today a trip to the Ringling Circus Museum will do it. Here the sheer scale of the enterprise in the early 20th C and the spectacle of the exotic can be relived through film, posters and a huge and remarkable model of the circus, the largest in the world with eight main tents, 55 railroad cars, 152 circus wagons, 1,500 performers and circus personnel, and more than 500 animals. It occupies 3,800 sq. ft. on the first floor of the Tibbals Learning Center and measures 148 feet in length.

It's a fine sight in itself with clever lighting and sound effects but equally engaging was the sight of the older visitors, noses pressed against the glass like children at a sweet shop window, reliving those moments of pure escapism and wonder from their youth.

Dodging some heavy thunderstorms we also visited the Museum of Art where there is a fine collection of painting, sculpture and objects d'art from around the world and in the Contemporary gallery there is currently a show called "Phantasmagoria: Spectors of Absence"

I am not a huge fan of installation art but some of these exhibits were quite beautiful. The brochure description sums it up well:
Mist, breath, and fog are often associated with mystery; in their double status as perceptible yet almost nonexistent phenomena, they suggest evanescence or absence. The mysterious world of vapor evokes a dreamlike state inviting the viewer to suspend the harshness of reality for some otherworldly space. This show explores how artists are currently working in this challenging artistic medium, and engaging the viewer with their creations, and throughout the installations, the artists’ use of shadows and actual fog and mist evokes the alluring enigma and magic of Phantasmagoria. The artists, including William Kentridge, Christian Boltanski, Regina Silveira and Jim Campbell,

One of the most lyrical pieces was this smoke projection by Rosângela Rennó . "Experiencing Cinema" Images are timed to project onto a "screen" of smoke. It is almost impossible to show in a photograph how these illusive and fragile images appear and disappear, literally in a puff of smoke but here is a publicity shot that gets close.

For more information about the Ringling Museum here

This is also an opportunity to post a couple of circus themed paintings

A strange and typically bleak early Hopper from 1912 Soir Blue

One of my favourite UK painters, Dame Laura Knight's image of the Mill 's circus from the 1920´s

and "Checkers" by Normal Rockwell 1929, which was on show in the exhibition in Orlando I wrote about some time ago here

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Leaf of the Day: Bat Leaved Passionflower

Today is the first day of summer in Orlando. Half way through the year, the longest day. I am thinking about how long the days will be in the UK this week. Light at 4.33am and not dark until 16 hours and 38 minutes later. I love the light, here we have three hours less, with dawn at 6.28 am.

Today I also spent too long at Leu and not enough time at the drawing board but I did find my bat leaved passionflower again, Passiflora coriacea. As you can see it is extraordinary, it is leaf shaped but sideways on. It is also slightly ironic, on the lightest day, to talk about creatures of the night but this is an excellent opportunity to introduce not only the bat leaved passionflower but also the delightful nectar feeding bats who are instrumental in the pollination of many flowers, including some passionflowers.
How you feel about bats is up to you but I personally like them very much. They are the only flying mammal, that in itself is amazing.
Bats, apart from doing the very good deed of hoovering up mosquitoes are important pollinators of many plants, amongst which are bananas and quite a few passionflowers. Bat pollinated passionflowers all have flowers which hang down, open late in the afternoon and have anthers which are angled in such a way as to brush the top of the head of a visiting bat with pollen. The bats need to visit the flowers often as their metabolism uses up energy very fast and in response the flowers make sure the nectaries are topped up regularly.

Here is a beautiful photograph of a nectar feeding bat from a learned article from the University of Arizona here about the importance of pollinators whose conclusion is that:
'Migratory nectar-feeding bats, hummingbirds and resident bee populations are demonstrably at risk due to burgeoning human populations and changing landuse patterns '

So spare a kind thought for these funny little creatures, join a bat conservation group or just lean more about them. There is a good site here Bat Conservation International. and to learn more about passionflowers and bats there is an excellent site here at


Bat Leaved Passionflower

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Friday 20 June 2008

Leaf of the Day: Herbert's Giant Radish and the Vegetable Police.

Yesterday I heard on the radio that, due to food shortages, it is becoming conceivable that the EU vegetable police who ensure that no deformed or non-conforming items of fruit and veg can disgrace the hallowed counters of the supermarkets, may in fact be relaxing their rules. Regardless of how things actually taste we have been subject to a dreary conformity and a quite horrible dumbing-down of the glorious variety of odd and interesting produce, just another symptom I suppose of a society that seems to value the superficial over the important.

"We ( now) want to have two classes, allowing supermarkets to sell funny shaped vegetables," said Michael Mann, a spokesman for the European Commission.

Change however may be slow. The rules on bananas are remaining the same but at least cucumbers will be allowed to wriggle a bit.

I quote from the 'Independent' article all about knobbly veg here

The rules for bananas will remain unchanged, meaning both overly bendy and straight fruit cannot be labelled class one. EU directive 2257/1994 dictates that top bananas must be "free from malformation or abnormal curvature of the fingers". Regulation bendiness helps speed packing and prevent damage in transportation. Class two bananas can have full-on "defects of shape".

Directive 1677/88 stipulates that class one cucumbers may bend by 10mm for every 10cm of length. Class two cucumbers may bend twice as much. This will be relaxed."

A footnote to the cucumbers is that enthusiasts will no doubt be very interested to know that a new and delightfully considerate variety has been developed to ensure propriety at that elegant afternoon tea party. You will be able to wolf down those dainty crustless cucumber sandwiches without fear once you have ascertained that your hostess has cultivated only the "Burpless Tasty Green" variety. According to the blurb, "the fruits are not giants like most other Japanese varieties – cut them when they are about 9in (23cm) long and enjoy the crisp, juicy flesh from which both bitterness and indigestibility have been eradicated."

However, in support of the mishapen and the indigestible, I have made a sketch today of a giant of a radish. This I bought, along with a cobra shaped courgette, from Hector at the Winter Park Farmers market. He has some fine fruit and veg and some herbal teas that sound as though they would rival the yaupon holly drink for their purgative qualities. He and I talk about vegetables, be prepared for some more interesting specimens.

This radish is 3" in diameter and a beautiful pale pink. Inside the same pink colouring radiates out in a starburst from the centre. I have no idea of the variety but it is a radish to be reckoned with.

Herbert's Radish

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