Beautiful Botanicals: The Botanical Art Society of Newfoundland and Labrador

By Nicola Ryan

When spring’s sunrays slowly return each year, the forests, hills, bogs and meadows around us burst into a flourish of plants and wildflowers. Bright irises appear in marshes, tiny heathers bloom on rocky hillsides, and the wild diversity of Newfoundland and Labrador’s plant life is on display. Showy or small, colourful or subdued, each has its special grace and beauty.

Botanical art finds a way to capture the beauty of a plant in a style that contains its essence – in other words, combining artistic expression with scientific accuracy. The Botanical Art Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, established at the MUN Botanical Gardens in 2016, is a local non-profit focused on creating accurate studies of the beautiful and diverse plant life in our province.

“It began with a small group of artists painting weekly at MUN Botanical Garden, led by Margaret Walsh Best,” explains Glynn Bishop, who has recently taken over the role of president.

Margaret’s love of plants was nurtured by her many childhood hours spent with her Irish-born grandmother in the family garden in Kingman’s Cove, Fermeuse. While tending to the garden, she was captivated by her grandmother’s stories about where the various plants had come from and what they were used for.

As a passionate artist and art educator, Margaret strove to create the Botanical Arts Society to grow a sustainable, vibrant, and interactive community of artists who share an interest in botanical art, and the group is blooming with activity.

“We host painting workshops from renowned international botanical artists, and also informative talks and presentations related to nature and art at our monthly meetings,” Glynn says. “We also offer a bi-weekly paint and chat time, via Zoom, where members can converse about art topics and view an interactive painting demonstration on screen. All levels of skill are welcome. It’s a great place to learn more about plants, improve your art skills, and meet new friends.”

The art created by the members of the Botanical Society is as wild and diverse as the province’s prolific plant life.

“The members are mostly using watercolour on paper, but some use different media on different substrates. Each artist has their own style even though the botanical art process is basically the same. Botanical art shows a plant that is true to its nature. How an artist accomplishes that will always vary from one artist to another,” says Glynn. “Learning to look closely and observe what the plant’s details are, and wandering through nature looking for a subject, are all part of the process.”

The Society has had artwork exhibitions at the MUN Botanical Garden and the Grounds Café at Murray’s Garden Centre in Portugal Cove. Recently they’ve launched a new collaboration with the Wilds Resort at Salmonier.

“Artists are always looking for great places to hang their art where there’s public exposure, and The Wilds is one of those places,” says Glynn, noting that his wife, interior designer Marie Bishop helped bring the partnership about.

“I’ve been working with Kelly Finlay, the General Manager at The Wilds Resort, since 2018,” Marie recounts. “The long-term plan was to update and expand the thirty-year-old facility to improve and enhance the experience for their guests. By the beginning of 2020, we updated all the hotel rooms, replaced flooring, installed new light fixtures, added new rugs and lounge furniture and painted all the walls of the main floor. The question then arose, what to put on all the bare walls that had previously been filled with dated prints and faded tourism posters? Kelly suggested local artwork and cheekily wondered if I knew anyone who could provide some. Well of course!”

Part of the mandate of the Botanical Society is to raise ecological awareness and appreciation of botanical art through outreach in the community, so this presented a wonderful opportunity for members to showcase their work to a popular venue that gets hundreds of visitors annually

“By the time the resort was open for business after lockdown in the fall of 2020, the walls were filled with beautiful, colourful, local art,” says Marie. “It’s a wonderfully diverse collection with a wide range of styles, sizes, mediums and price points, hence the name the Wild Art Collective.”

Most pieces on display are original works from members including Glynn, Margaret Walsh Best, Michelle Whitten LaCour, Sharon Smith and Dave Collins, with some prints added to the mix. There are currently over 65 works of art on display, and each piece is tagged with the artist’s name, the type of medium used and the price. So far they’ve had great success.

“The staff at The Wilds are fabulous and have been a wonderful support in keeping it all going,” says Marie, who has taken on the role of curator. “Over the past three summers, we have sold dozens of beautiful pieces to guests from all over. “This idea is such a win/win/win,” she continues. “The artists are able to show their work in a public space for an unlimited time. Guests at the Wilds are able to take in the culture of a local art gallery without leaving the premises, and The Wilds look fabulous while being gracious hosts in their effort to support local artists. The other bonus is the artist receives 100% of the sale of their work.”

Back at the MUN Botanical Garden, the Botanical Art Society holds regular meetings scheduled for the third Monday of each month, and they have more events and exhibitions on the horizon.

“Next year we’re participating in the Botanical Art Year of Crop Diversity,” notes Glynn. “Each artist will choose a food, medicine, or textile crop as their painting subject and we’ll exhibit them in the fall of 2025.”

Through its dedication to celebrating Newfoundland’s rich botanical heritage, the Botanical Art Society fosters creativity and promotes an appreciation for this place we call home. Whether you’re a seasoned artist or just starting, they offer a welcoming space to explore, create, and connect with nature in a whole new way.

Here’s to more brushstrokes, shared moments, and vibrant blooms on our canvases and in our lives.

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Downhome Magazine

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