Claregalway Botanical Art Expo
July – Mid August 2013
In time, we will look back on these as halcyon days. A gem from amongst these days has been the Claregalway Botanical Art Expo during the Galway Garden Festival in early July. For me and no doubt for many artists, gardeners and visitors who participated or came along to enjoy the festival, we left with more than just bags of plants and books in our hands or beautiful botanical paintings under our arms – and yes, there were some sales!!
Claregalway was much more than a pure commercial exposé! It was an atmosphere, an experience, a buzz, a fair! Filled with the friendly banter of neighbours and friends enjoying a day out, gardeners and suppliers renewing friendships from previous events and making new ones, great jazz, the smell of great food, generations from new babies to those who have tended many a vegetable patch, there was something here for everyone!!
Claregalway Botanical Art Expo, centrally located next to the castle and overlooking the lovely courtyard, with its perfect perches for those who wanted to muse over a cuppa or a verre du vin, was very much a part of all of this magic. All thanks to Jane Stark who initiated the concept last year and continued this year by extending the invitation to artists to participate through the membership of the new Irish Society of Botanical Artists.
As botanical artists, we work largely in solitude. We need this space with few distractions to create our work and to capture the beauty of our subjects with scientific accuracy. We also need opportunities to grow and nourish ourselveswhich we now have through our new Irish Society of Botanical Artists. Very importantly, we need opportunities to show our work. We now have one such opportunity with the Claregalway Botanical Art Expo.
This year, over twenty artists participated showing seventy pieces. Four of these artists sent work from Scotland, Wales and England. The work was beautifully hung in a light filled space which was large enough but intimate enough to allow the viewer to engage with the work.
Throughout the weekend, Jane was there to oversee the smooth running of the exhibition, ably assisted by an array of artists who were participating! Saturday evening saw the official opening of the exhibition by Brendan Sayers, Foreman and Keeper of the Glasshouse Collections in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin.
Brendan’s credentials in terms of his vast expertise as an orchid specialist, a much lauded author and co-author, and a keen gardener speak for themselves. However, it is his many years of working closely with one of our own, Susan Sex, along with his long associations with and his love for the work of Lydia Shackleton, Charlotte Wheeler Cuffe, Sophia Rosamund Praeger, Raymond Piper and Wendy Walsh that best qualify him to cast a warm eye over our work. Brendan now works closely with the ISBA on our Alphabet Project, so as our colleague and friend, it was our honour and privilege that Brendan agreed to open the exhibition. He did so with a thoughtful, considered, inspiring speech, imbued with a warm humour that lit the room as he spoke.
Opening speech for Claregalway Botanical Art Exhibition
“As this opening speech has been promised to the Irish Society of Botanical Artists for their online blog, I will try to be as true to my typed words as possible. If however, after tonight you read that blog and find it differs, you can forgive my wanderings.
So, welcome. Welcome to the show, a show of images, a show of patience and dedication, a show of attention and craftsmanship but mostly a show of observation.
We are all here to view the beautiful depictions of plants painted by observant artists from home and abroad. It is delightful to see this ‘gathering’, practitioners in paint, bound together by their chosen subjects, the plants that surround us. In my chosen career, I often have to steer my audiences past the animal world and to focus on plants. They are easy to disregard and the tool of the artists with paper can highlight those plants in a way that is less disregarding.
I must thank Jane for asking me to open this exhibition. My qualification to do the job is earned by opportunities presented during my career. I have been fortunate to spend hours thumbing through the works of Lydia Shackleton, Alice Jacob and Josephine Humphries, and their watercolour catalogue of the orchids that flowered in the late 18 and early 1900s in the Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin. I have been transported to the forests of Burma, their trees festooned with orchids, while handling the large freestyle paintings of Charlotte ‘Shadow’ Wheeler Cuffe. I have had the delight to deliver subjects for illustration to Wendy Walsh and to spend time with this generous and gentle master of the art. I have sipped wine, debated minute morphological differences and examined magnificently executed portraits with and by Raymond Piper in Dublin, London and Belfast. But most of my learning has been at the side of my compatriot, friend and colleague, Susan Sex. I thank them all for the opportunities they have gifted me.
The purpose of botanical art is to depict, in a faithful manner the plants that surround us. The first, early examples are probably crude carvings of edible plants in a cave far away from here. The great wealth botanical art provided was the depiction of plants from far away places that were returned to Europe as tubers, seed and dried specimens. The accompanying paintings allowed those who had never set foot from European shores the delights that awaited them when these seeds and tubers were forced into growth by the gardeners and growers of the days. The artist, in laying out the plate design, could bend and twist a leaf to reveal a tomentose underside, show front and rear views of flowers allowing the observer to see the magnificent spur at the back.
A functioning botanic garden is one that enjoys the presence of botanical illustrators. For the same reasons as when the first exotics landed on our shores, people need to see what is truly around them. The stripping away of the masses of foliage that comprises a meadow, to highlight a single inhabitant and show it in all its glory.
Even today as books are leaning strongly towards photography, homage is paid to the art of botanical illustration. The recently published Flora of County Fermanagh, has a botanical illustration as a frontispiece. Homage is still being paid there.
The life of botanical art should not and must not be tied to scientific institutions and botanic gardens. It survival and growth depends on an appreciative public. Appreciation shown in our attention to the paintings, our compliments passed to the hard working artists and purchases made of the beautiful end products. Let’s be like the courtiers of the palaces waiting for the latest revelations from the New World.
As some of you know I can at times be opinionated and expect high standards for finished work. I make no apologies for this but also desire and appreciate a more relaxed approach when applicable. And this exhibition at The Glaregalway Garden Festival is one such occasion. The Festival is magnificent and eclectic. As I have to work with many of these artists in the coming months, it would be foolish of me to say too much about the beautiful paintings that surround us. I will mention those from outside the island, Lorraine, Jarnie, Julie and Claire. There is a softer side of me that people don’t very often see and that is in my appreciation of Gordon D’Arcy’s works and the work of Anne Tower’s adding that eclectic touch to a very fine botanical art exhibition and what is for me an absolute delight.”
Owner of Claregalway Castle, Dr, Eamonn O’Donoghue supports Christian Blind Mission Ireland and the Galway Simon community. Several hundred Euro were collected for these charities during the first weekend of the Botanical Art Expo through the raffle of a painting. The upcoming Claregalway Classical Music Festival will take place from Aug 5th – 10th, during which the Botanical Art Expo will be open to the many visitors expected to attend the second year of the Magic of Music School and Festival. There should be a good footfall that week to wrap up the exhibition.
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