ISBA Inaugural Exhibition
Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art
After many months of planning and hard work, the big day was nearly upon us! Alphabet team volunteers gathered at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, in the days before the opening of Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art to add the finishing touches to the inaugural exhibition of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists.
Paintings were placed in their mounts and taken away to be framed; display panels were assembled and painted; paintings were hung in their allotted space, adjusted and re-adjusted until all were in perfect alignment; signs and posters were placed in their appropriate positions; examples of the artists’ careful preparatory work was placed in the glass boxes and the tired volunteers stood back to survey their efforts.
The helpful and supportive staff of the Botanic Gardens transported catalogues and other materials from their storage locations; helped to mount and trim signs; design exquisite displays of wild Irish plants on pieces of slate and generally provide any assistance they possibly could to the A-team.
The morning of the opening began bright and early as a team from the TV programme ‘Nationwide’ arrived to film an example of the artists’ support sessions with Susan Sex. A fortunate few enjoyed an unexpected master class on painting leaves as Susan replicated the sort of invaluable advice and encouragement that she had provided throughout the project. During the course of the day, the Nationwide team also conducted interviews with Dr Shirley Sherwood, botanical artists Deborah Lambkin and Glasnevin botanist, Colin Kelleher. The programme will go out on RTE on 20 June along with a feature on the World Association of Flower Arrangers (WAFA) World Flower Show at the RDS in Dublin.
As the Glasnevin staff and A-team volunteers attended to last minute details, Dr Shirley Sherwood arrived at the Botanic Gardens, accompanied by her husband, James Sherwood. Dr Matthew Jebb, Director of the National Botanic Gardens, along with ISBA Chairperson Mary Dillon, NBG Librarian Alex Caccamo and Glasshouse Foreman Brendan Sayers were on hand to welcome Dr Sherwood and her husband and to entertain them at a lunch hosted in the Visitor Centre gallery area, surrounded by the Aibítir exhibition that would be opened by Dr Sherwood later that evening. A tour of the gardens followed before our guests departed for a brief rest before the evening’s celebrations.
Invited guests began arriving early at the Visitor Centre, eager to get a first glimpse of the paintings. Catalogues were in great demand as visitors made their way around the gallery area, viewing not only the 59 paintings that passed the stringent adjudication process, but also those that just missed meeting the judges’ criteria and those which had been entered as ‘fringe’ paintings. Examples of the artists’ preparatory work was displayed in a number of glass boxes, along with snippets from the stories that many artists wrote about their Aibítir journey.
The exhibition has remained true to its original goal of inclusivity, which allowed each participant to be justly proud of journeys that have led to increased artistic skills, a greater knowledge and appreciation of Irish wild plants and a growing sense of community with other artists of all skill levels.
Once the guests were assembled, Dr Matthew Jebb welcomed everyone to the National Botanic Gardens and to Aibítir: The Irish Alphabet in Botanical Art. His speech was followed by a few words from ISBA Chairperson Mary Dillon, who thanked the many people who, since the project was first conceived, have assisted the participants in a myriad of different ways. She then introduced Dr Sherwood and welcomed her on behalf of the assembled guests and the Aibítir participants.
Dr Shirley Sherwood is the world’s foremost collector of botanical art, and her large collection is housed in the purpose-built Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew Gardens. Her words reflected her prodigious knowledge of botanical art, including the latest trends and developments, such as the move towards painting life-size representations of larger plants, thanks to the availability of larger paper sizes; the depiction of smaller plants at higher magnification, and the use of a wider range of media. She urged everyone present to buy a copy of the exhibition catalogue and declared the exhibition officially open.
On Friday 2 May, Aibítir opened to the public, and there has been a steady stream of visitors who have voiced their appreciation and delight at this unique exhibition. Limited edition archival prints of the paintings are available to buy either mounted and unframed (€100) or mounted with a frame (€150). The print run will be strictly limited to 30 for each painting, with 20 of these being available for purchase by the public. We have been delighted with the interest in these prints and the fact that, quite without any prompting from us, visitors to the exhibition are finding creative reasons for buying paintings – a first name initial or even two initials as a birthday, anniversary or wedding present; a plant that comes from a certain part of the country (a fitting reminder of a memorable holiday in the Burren, for instance) or perhaps a plant that evokes happy childhood memories of hedgerow foraging. Others are chosen solely on artistic merit. The paintings of Aibítir speak in different ways to each one who views them, and that is part of the project’s unique charm.