Sunday, November 23, 2008

An artist who loved flowers

Even skunk cabbage, a watercolor of which he is holding above. This is a photo from Life magazine by Alfred Eisenstaedt (from the Google-hosted archive).

This weekend, I attended the grand opening celebration of Buffalo’s first new art museum in over 100 years: the Burchfield-Penney Art Center. Previously, the museum had been housed on the third floor of a building in Buffalo State College’s campus; now it has a freestanding building, designed by architects Gwathmey-Siegel, also on the campus. The museum is devoted to works by Western New York artists, including, of course, Charles Ephraim Burchfield.

Clover Field in June (1947)
A renowned watercolorist, Burchfield (1893-1967) lived in a suburb of Buffalo called Gardenville for 40 years. (Part of the area is now a nature and art center dedicated to his memory; it has 29 acres of woods and trails.) Burchfield barely lived long enough to see the completion of the first Burchfield Art Center on the Buffalo State Campus in 1966; he would be amazed to see this expansive new facility.

Autumnal Fantasy (1916-1944) This is one of many paintings CEB returned to decades after starting them and reworked.

Burchfield was a quiet, introspective family man (he and his wife Bertha raised 5 children), who wrote extensively in his journals about his observations of the natural world. I wrote this about him in Art & Antiques in 1993:
Even the grimmest Buffalo winters enchanted Burchfield. Once, after gazing at a bleak January landscape of spongy, greenish-black vegetation and bare trees, he wrote, “I stand spellbound, unable myself to move for the power and wonder of it.” He was continually frustrated by the impossibility of pinning down a bright spring day, and after attempts at encapsulating hourly changes in the appearance of a landscape from dawn to dusk in his "all day sketches," eventually Burchfield decided to place more reliance on memory rather than subjecting himself to the distractions of reality. This strategy also allowed him to develop an abstract vocabulary of slashing brush strokes and angular distortions to represent drama, while undulating lines and atmospheric veils of paint suggested mystery and mood.
It was not important to represent the natural world exactly; Burchfield sought to express the awe, the intense emotions, that nature inspired in him. He might have had more in common with his abstract-expressionist contemporaries (whose work he detested) than he was willing to acknowledge.

Besides the “Seasons” and other nature-inspired paintings by Burchfield, there were many other nature-oriented works in the show, including a 17’ x 50’ (yes, feet) mixed media mural of an arbor by Russell Drisch (below, with dancers); delightful Flower Blobs by sculptor Roberley Bell (above, meant to be interactive); and many traditional landscapes by nineteenth and early twentieth-century painters.

My one hope is that the new museum will honor its namesake by installing a beautiful landscape design, one that includes native plantings—perhaps with an eye to Burchfield’s favorites—and as little turf as possible.

Many more photos of the museum and opening events can be seen here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A book close at hand

What a coincidence. I had been planning to post about this book, but hadn’t. Then, today, I read Dee/Red Dirt Rambling’s blog in which she uncharacteristically responded to a meme about books. Update: Barbara/Mr. McGregor's daughter has also done it.

The idea is that you grab the book closest to hand—no cheating—turn to page 56, choose the 5th sentence down, and post the results, including other lines if necessary to provide context. Here are my results:

Earlier in the year, I had been impressed by a strain of cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, before it ran up to flower. Its pale leaves, less dissected than usual, were overlaid by a almost metallic sheen. This is a joyful garden.

I assure you, the closest book to my laptop, excluding the messy stack of catalogs it lay beneath, was Christopher Lloyd’s Other People’s Gardens. Published in 1995, it documents Lloyd’s travels through 24 gardens, 18 of which are in Great Britain and Ireland, and 6 of which are in New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S. I have never been to any of them, but long to visit many, including Beth Chatto’s and Helen Dillon’s gardens, both of which are included, as well as Powis Castle, Chilcombe, and Stourton.

This book had been on my Amazon “to buy” list for a while, and I finally ordered a used copy this year. I doubt it’s in print. It is written in Lloyd’s typical style—not a gushing travelogue at all, but matter-of-fact, opinionated, critical when necessary, and refreshingly casual in tone. I happened just now to open to a description of how rudbeckia “Herbstonne” “flops hopelessly in the border,” which mine certainly does. Lloyd describes the gardens he visits, but his descriptions are flavored at all times by his own experience of many of the plants and he is occasionally critical when warranted, as here in the chapter on Balcarres: “I have one criticism of Ruth’s Garden. I think it tries to cover too long a season of interest and this is at the expense of any potential climax.”

A fascinating book, and one I am sure many of you would love to read, if you have not already. Don’t worry, there’ll be no tagging, but if you want to do this it’s fun.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Think autumnal

Think Persuasion, one of my favorite Austen novels (given that there are no non-favorite Austen novels). All the flashy part of the autumn is over. It’s cold or at least chilly most of the time and the light is grayer. It rains a lot. It’s windy and daylight is just about over by the time I get home, weekdays.

Yet, I sat contentedly on the side steps the other day, having just managed to squeeze another few packs of bulbs into the ground, and I felt very good about the garden. Sure, much of it is brown and dead-looking. But you can still see structure and potential. At this time of year, I appreciate the evergreen groundcover in the front; it’s not my favorite plant, but it looks fresh.

Blooms? Not many. I took in a few of the rose buds, because they would be much happier opening inside than out. Some diascia and lobelia is still hanging on—and sure, the toad lily is in bloom. A couple dahlias. Meh.

Blooms are not what it’s about. It’s about setting the stage for the spring, getting excited about bulbs (especially bulb forcing, especially in the forcing glasses, above), and thinking about plants and gardening. And trying to find some decent lighting for my plant room so I can do better with my overwintering. And even though I still I may still clear out one more bed before Thanksgiving, it's really about next year's flowers, not now.

The 2008 garden is over. On with the 2009 GWI garden.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Operation tazetta

Though a few dahlias and roses are hanging on in the garden, it was windy and rainy today, and I couldn’t stand the thought of outdoor tasks. Luckily, I had an indoor potting job waiting: some empty vases from Amvets; stones, glass pebbles, and gravel; and plenty of tazetta bulbs, including some special tazettas from Old House Gardens: Erlicheer and Grand Primo. OHG advises that I chill these for a couple weeks and then bring them into a sunny spot.

I also still have Martinette, Grand Soleil d’Or and Golden Rain from Brent and Becky’s. Many of these bulbs are still available, by the way, if you haven’t gotten any tazettas yet.

The vases are all pretty cheap, except a few I got at an antique store, including this big one. The river stones look the best, I think, but I didn’t have enough and had to use some glass. I use a certain amount of stones on top to wedge the bulbs into place—not to hide them.

I was amazed at how huge the ones from Old House Gardens were (4 Erlicheers above). Just one of them totally filled a few of the vessels.

With a decent amount of sun, which they absolutely require, I’ll be seeing these come up from mid-December through mid-February.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

If you can't grow em, make em

It’s a stretch to call creating a glass flower indoor gardening, I do realize. But it does make a flower happen and it’s fun. Although it’s only about two and a half hours away, we don’t visit the Corning Museum of Glass as often as we should. They have a great permanent collection covering the entire history of glass, from Egyptian portraits to the latest from Chihuly, Ben Tre, and many Czech artists with very long names. Above is the 1997 Hollow Torso by Irish artist Clifford Rainey.

It’s a bit of a shame that the only glass artist most people know—I include myself in this—is Chihuly (above). I like his stuff, but during our visit, there were so many other wonderful contemporary sculptures and installations. I guess Chihuly is one of the only ones able to make the crossover into the larger art world. (You know, that whole craft vs. art thing.)

The magnificent Chihuly sculpture you see here is in the lobby of the museum, which, appropriately uses a lot of glass in its construction. Then you move into the galleries, which are chronologically arranged. There are also regularly changing special exhibitions. It was cool to see some work from the Blaschkas (their salvia, above), whom I posted about on Garden Rant. They made a lot of plant and animal glass in the nineteenth century for the purposes of natural science.

Throughout the galleries, I found that many of the objects have nature and flower motifs, as with this Venetian candelabra above.

Corning is certainly one of the most visitor-friendly museums you’ll find, and in an intelligent way, not just a bunch of video-game-like stations, such as many “science centers” have. There is an educational interactive gallery, a theater where you can watch artisans making glass, and a “make your own glass” center. We both made flowers—mine is above. Best of all, you can take as many flash pictures as you want. They do not care. More of mine are here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Stay gold

Of course it won’t. After reading Carol/May Dream Gardens post on red in her garden, I was inspired to look at the prevalent fall color in my garden, which is not red, but the possibly more common yellow/gold. (I’m just going to copy Carol’s post topics from now on. She has a lot of them. Why didn’t I think of this before?)

Anyway, gold and yellow are obviously the big fall colors for me. Both the front easeway and back garden maples (top) turn gold before falling, as does the cherry tree (above). I have a red maple in front, but it’s not a bright red. Also, there seems to be a problem with many of the maple trees around here; they get some kind of icky disease many years. I wonder too if the colors change from year to year, and I think they can age from a reddish orange to gold as well.

By the pond, this climbing hydrangea has really come into its own. This is the best it’s ever looked. These take a while to get going, as I’ve commented before, but when they’re finally happy, look out! The wisteria also turns gold, which finally makes it easier to tell from the trumpet vine, with which it is inextricably entwined. (Other gardeners find it incredible that I grow both wisteria and trumpet vine—together.) Most fall hostas (below) will be bright yellow at this time, as is my Annabelle hydrangea shrub, which I’ve yet to photograph. I’ll try to add it tomorrow.