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Botanical Art Exhibition Crosses Atlantic

4 July 2011

What began in 2006 with a preliminary call for entries to the membership of the American Society of Botanical Artists is culminating in the final showing of Losing Paradise? Endangered Plants Here and Around the World, a botanical art exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, UK.  The exhibition opened Saturday, June 25th as part of a broader exhibition Plants in Peril which will be on view at the gallery until Sunday, October 16th.  
The collection of 44 works of original art depicting threatened and endangered plants from North & South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia that comprise Losing Paradise? and the artists who created them have come a long way since that first appeal.  
Botanical artists, some of whom had depicted only garden varieties of familiar flowers, set out to increase public awareness through their art of plants threatened with extinction.  
They learned of the various organizations that assess the conservation status of endangered plant species such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network which produces the Red List of Threatened Species, NatureServe which produces conservation status assessments in the U.S. and Canada, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service which administers the Endangered Species Act of 1973.  
They formed collaborations with local scientists, conservation organizations, and botanical gardens that could provide guidance in locating and studying the plants whether they be in public collections or in the wild.  The ASBA and its member artists leaned heavily on expertise from the Center for Plant Conservation a network of 36 leading botanic institutions. Founded in 1984, the Center operates the only coordinated national program of off-site (ex situ) conservation of rare plant material.  
Artists also learned the ethics of proper procedures when painting these plants in the wild. They must be studied (not collected) in the wild and they and their habitats must be left exactly as they are found.  In fact, under its Wildflower Initiative, the ASBA adopted a formal Code of Ethics for all members, especially those working in the field (in situ) with native flora.  
Curated according to scientific accuracy, aesthetics, and technical mastery, with an aim to represent plants at all levels of protection, including state, national, and international, as well as plants representing a wide variety of genera and habitats, 44 works of art in a variety of media were selected for the exhibition from a field of 128 submissions.  Watercolor, pen & ink, colored pencil, oil and gouache were masterfully applied to paper and vellum to depict species as varied as wood lilies from the eastern United States and cacti from the west, to Orchids of Vietnam and Peru, and the Wollemi pine of Australia, thought to be extinct for 2 million years until its discovery in New South Wales in 1994.
The exhibition opened at the Missouri Botanical Garden October 5th, 2009 with an address by world renowned botanist and then President of the Garden, Dr. Peter Raven.  It traveled to the Chicago Botanic Garden in January, The New York Botanical Garden in May, and concluded its originally planned tour of the United States at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.  Then thanks in part to the efforts of Dr. Sherwood a strong supporter of Losing Paradise? over the years, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, UK was added to the schedule, the first International venue for an ASBA exhibition.   

More information

A catalog of the exhibition including images of the artwork and stories of each plant and the artists that depicted them as well as essays by leading plant scientists and conservationists is available for sale from the ASBA.  A blog site showing artwork from the exhibition with excerpts from the catalog and hundreds of links to resources about the plants, conservation efforts, the artists, and other organizations is accessible online.  A video interview with professional illustrator Alice Tangerini, images of herbarium specimens of the plants, and downloadable lesson plans based on the exhibition are available online from the Smithsonian Institute.  

American Society of Botanical Artists Exhibition Website:
Information about the American Society of Botanical Artists:
Smithsonian Exhibition Webpage:
Smithsonian Lesson Plans:

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