Back in Menindee

Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project is happening again in Menindee, outback New South Wales. This is my seventh time up here, so many of you are familiar with the story. But just in case you don’t know, here is the short version. (For the longer version you can jump to our website Beckler’s Botanical Bounty. Sorry, can’t do a hyperlink.)

In 1860 the Bourke and Wills Expedition set up their supply camp in Menindee, a small town on the Darling River. The Expedition was to be the first crossing of the continent from Melbourne in the south to north at the Gulf of Carpentaria. While Bourke and three others made it there, the Expedition was a disaster.

However, our project is connected to Hermann Beckler, the doctor on the Expedition. He remained in Menindee, where he had resigned in furious disagreement with Bourke. Beckler was fascinated by Australian plants and collected widely in the area. His friendship with Ferdinand Mueller at the Melbourne Botanical Gardens meant that the specimens collected by Beckler became part of the collection in the Herbarium.

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The Darling River (copyright: AnneLawson 2018)

Fast forward 150 years to 2010, when the Project began as a celebration of the 150 anniversary of the Expedition. We have been collecting the same species Beckler collected, and then painting these plants.

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My Cullen paintings at our Beckler exhibition in Ballarat earlier this year.

There were 120 plants on Beckler’s List. This year we have only 38 more to find!

However, I doubt that we will find any plants to collect and paint this year. (Warning: from here on in I am writing about the effects of drought, and I am feeling angry about the state of affairs.)

The drought has been on the news lately, mainly showing politicians in Akubra hats pontinficating about their ‘generosity’ with belated funding. Up here it hits you in the face.

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It is so dry, unbelievably dry. It’s an environment that always looks ragged, but we have always found things growing, often carpets of daisies, things twining through the salt bushes or flashes of colour on the sandy banks.

This year there is so little; no annuals at all. No daisies, not even the fried eggs one that has been so common. No pimeleas dancing in the breeze. No Cullens, the plants I have been painting, not even Cullen discolor a prostrate version and has been growing abundantly on the golf course in past years. (I have found one plant, growing in the nature strip in town!) Not even very much onion weed, that has always grown everywhere.

Even the perennials are stressed. Much of the saltbush looks dead. I say “looks” because a local has told us that with the first rains it will grow again from the centre. But to see a bare landscape, with even the saltbush dead or struggling is heartbreaking.

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The mighty river red gums are holding their own down on the banks of the Darling River, but the leaf and bark litter and fallen limbs tell of their stress. Beneath them are Swainsonia greyana ready to burst into purple flower and is the only species that looks to be flourishing. The sennas are holding their own too, providing a burst of yellow in a sere landscape.

There is no moisture in the soil, and there are no roots of the annuals to bind it. So the soil just flies away. The Fella and I drove into Broken Hill on the day of high wind, and we could see the dust storm carrying away the soil.

And it’s not Summer yet.

It is distressing. I admire the resilience and courage of those that live here, building communities and lives.

I know that drought has been a part of the Australian landscape. I find a glimmer of reassurance knowing that the native plants are adapted to these periods of drought. However, I also know that we humans are affecting the climate and that we must reduce our CO2 emissions. Instead we have a government that refuses to set any emission targets, preferring coal over green energy. Some on the government benches refuse to acknowledge that climate change is influenced by human action.

Last month we changed prime ministers, not through a general vote and not over policy, but because some members thought Malcolm Turnbull would loose seats in the next election. These Climate Change Deniers have that sort of influence.

Meanwhile our environment, and the people living in it are suffering.

I know that the plants here have evolved with drought, and when the next rains come there will be a blossoming of life. It’s important to know. But climate change is putting unnecessary stresses on them, and it is that that we must do something about. And that requires serious, concerted political action, and that is what we are not getting.

I was going to leave you with a sunrise photo, help you understand the beauty of this place, but internet connection is so frustrating. (This post has taken nearly a day to write.) I will post more when I get home next week, and show you more than the drought.

The Exhibition is Open!

Some of you have been following the progress of Beckler’s Botanical Bounty for years, from the first visits to the outback town of Menindee, through my paintings of the plants I found there, to working on things for the Exhibition of our work at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. For those of you who are newer to my blog I will give you a couple of links to bring you up to speed.

A collection of posts about my involvement in the project Beckler’s Botanical Bounty.

The website of out project, which has condensed versions of who we are, what we are doing and who Hermann Beckler was and why he is important.

My newsletter subscribers have seen a little of what I am about to show you in this post. Click here if you would like to get my free, fortnightly newsletter.

Our Opening was Saturday of last week, and I didn’t stop smiling for the whole day!

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I was moved to tears when I first walked into the room of our exhibition. It looked so beautiful! Someone said later that it was like walking into a science book. Another said it was like the environment of the Menindee area ~ you were encouraged to look closer to see the treasures that were hidden in plain sight.

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My first glimpse, and then with lots of people from the Opening…..

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Photos don’t do justice to the paintings. Botanic art requires fine details, often microscopic, to be shown, as these can be the identifying feature. However, the following gallery of photos will give you a taste of what a selection of the 40 paintings are like. (Apologies for the poorly cropped photos.)

But let me be a real show off and give a full photo to my three paintings! (Well, it is my blog!!)

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The Project has had four themes going through it ~ Art, Country, History and Science. We wanted to reflect those themes in the display too. There are four plinths in the centre of the room, each showing artefacts to illustrate the theme.

The actual Opening was great fun. There were about 300 people there, all excited about the Exhibition (but probably not as excited as me!). So many people that our speakers, including Prof. Tim Entwisle, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Victoria and opening speaker, were just heads above the crowd.

As well as the Welcome to Country we had a Smoking Ceremony that cleansed all who laid a gum leaf on the smouldering fire. I felt very blessed to have been involved.

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The catalogue of the Project had taken a lot of time from a lot of people. It was worth it, because now we have a very elegant record of the Project and the paintings in the Exhibition. They sold like hot cakes at the Opening.

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Over 20 artists have been involved since 2010, the beginning of all of this. There has been a range of artistic abilities but it was always our intention that each artist would have the chance to have at least one painting exhibited, and every exhibiting artist is included in the catalogue. So, let me show off some more and post my spread!

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My biographical piece in the catalogue
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The accompanying image of my painting of Cullen pallidum

And finally…..one of the joys of the Opening was that my Mum was able to be there. (You can spot her in a few of the photos!) And my regret that my Dad wasn’t there. Mum is 91 and has always been my strongest supporter, in everything I have done.  She has followed my travels to Menindee and all my art that has flowed from the trips. Today I opened a card she had sent me, and what she wrote shows you why she is such a special person.

Dear Anne,

What an amazing time we all had last week at Ballarat! How proud we are of you! This has been a great journey for you, and we hope, that whatever art road you choose to travel, you have much enjoyment and adventure.

Who knows where your many talents are going to lead you ~ but you do know that your family is behind you always!

Much, much fond love, dearest Anne

Mum

So, if you are any where near to Ballarat, or know of someone who is, the details are

Beckler’s Botanical Bounty: the Flora of Menindee

at the Art Gallery of Ballarat (the link will give you directions)

on now until May 27th

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Beckler’s Botanical Bounty: the flora of Menindee

It’s a while since I wrote anything about the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project that I am involved with.

Very briefly…..I am part of a group of botanic artists who, since 2010 have gone annually to Menindee, a small town in outback new South Wales. We are collecting and then painting the specimens collected by Hermann Beckler, the doctor on the Burke and Wills Expedition, in 1860. Our website will give you a good overview while you can read more about my personal experiences on these posts.

As well as collecting and painting all 120 plants on his list, we have always had the dream of having an exhibition of the Project. Last year (or was it 2016?) we were accepted by the Art Gallery of Ballarat!

Since then we, with a big input from the fabulous staff at the Gallery, have been busy with the tasks needed to get the Exhibition up.

  • 40 paintings have been selected, scanned, mounted and framed
  • 4 cabinets with objects showing our themes of Art, Science, History and Country have been organised
  • Essays have been written for the catalogue, along with artist bios and statements about their plants
  • A slide show and narration (including bird song from the area!) has been produced. It will show in the smaller room off the main room.
  • Our Opening has been organised
  • Publicity is well underway

Now, we are about 5 weeks away from the Opening!!!!

So, if you are in Victoria (Ballarat is only an hour’s train ride from Melbourne 😉 ) organise some friends to come to see the Exhibition.  And if you can’t make it tell a friend who lives a little closer. The cafe in the Gallery is very good too!

Beckler’s Botanical Bounty: the Flora of Menindee

25th February to 27th May 2018

Art Gallery of Ballarat

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Detail of my Menindee plant ~ Cullen australasicum

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An update on the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project

If you have been following my blog for a while you will remember the annual trips that the Fella and I make up to Menindee, a little country town about an hour out of Broken Hill. If you are new to the blog, or have forgotten let me briefly explain.

I am part of a group of botanic artists who go up to the semi-arid area of Outback New South Wales to collect and paint the plants that were found on the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860. Dr Hermann Beckler was the collector as well as the doctor on the Expedition. Our Project began in 2010, and the Fella and I have gone up since 2011.

You can read my posts, which will give you more detail of the Project.

The Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project means many things to me, such as a chance to explore a very unfamiliar environment, an invaluable learning opportunity, a great way to spend time with likeminded artists, as well as being an interesting holiday!

But I know that the Project is much more than that, We have always been aware that it has a place in history. It has brought Dr Beckler’s contribution to Australian plant knowledge to the fore. We collect specimens of the plants to sit alongside Beckler’s in the National Herbarium of Victoria, and each specimen has detailed records of habitat, soil conditions, GPS location and so on. This provides current data on plants that exist in the Menindee Lakes/Kinchega National Park area, data that, when combined with Beckler’s collection, could be very useful for longitudinal studies. It is a great example of how citizen scientists can contribute to scientific knowledge.

As well, it was always our intention to have an exhibition of our paintings. That is happening in February/March/April 2018 at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Organisation for that is currently ‘full steam ahead’.

My paintings from the Cullen genus:

And my painting of Pimelea trichostaycha:

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Now I am asking you to consider donating to the Project. All expenses, such as the travel to and accommodation in Menindee and art supplies, have been met by individual artists, something we have been very proud to do. The Gallery is very generously helping us with expenses for the exhibition, including the catalogue, curation and scanning. However, there are some things that we would like to find some extra money for, such as future publications to put the Project in its place in Australian botanical history.

We have set up a crowd funding campaign, that will run for another 50 days. If you would be able to help us, any amount will be appreciated. To find out more jump over to the Australian Cultural Fund page. If you email me at annebags@optusnet.com.au I can send you a PDF of the campaign.

https://australianculturalfund.org.au/projects/becklers-botanical-bounty-of-menindee/

Thanks for taking the time to think about this.

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In my studio, December 2016

What’s happening in my studio?

Well, not much painting-wise. Like you, I have been busy with other interesting things that this time of the year throws up, including a very interesting talk by Dr. Tom May, who spoke about “From mushrooms to the mycobiome”. But that’s not what this post is about…..

My Cullen painting is at the same stage as last month. It’s not going to be finished in 2016. 😦

I have sent off my #stitchingsanta parcels. It is a fun idea organised by Sheila at Sewchet. Back in October she sent out an invitation to play along this year. I love making connections around the world, so I was in. I asked for two people ~ a sewing and a knitting/crocheting secret santa. Then Sheila’s email arrived telling me who I was going to collect for. I had so much fun collecting things. But challenged too. They need to be things the present-opener would like, as well as having an Australian theme and flat enough to go through the post as a letter. I think I did well, but, as it is a secret, all I can show you is this…..

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In my studio I have some new treasures……

I can never go far without picking up something to bring home. These caught my eye on the path near the Botanic Gardens. I love how the weighty seedpods contrasts with the delicate wings, the smooth and the finely textured, the green and the pink, the shadow and the light ~ all this in one little miraculous package.

The other treasure is a print from my very talented friend Melanie Lazarow. I saw her recent exhibition and enjoyed her abstracts. Some are large and a wild mixture of vivid colours, some are small with detailed geometric shapes. She is also a wonderful photographer and her passion is recording how people fight against injustice. However, it was this print that cried out to go home with me.

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Image copyright: Melanie Lazarow

I love the colours in it, its moodiness, and of course the plants.

While my Cullen painting has been languishing, I have made progress with my embroidery.

It is such a different process to my botanic art. When painting I know exactly how I want the final image to be. The point of botanic art is to replicate the plant in fine detail. Many of the decisions about composition, colour, tone, the process and so on are made before I start. Major problems I encounter during the painting process have usually arisen because I haven’t thought through issues at the beginning. The colour may be wrong or I haven’t really considered how I am going to paint those fine hairs or realise that the original drawing was incorrect.

The embroidery is so different. I have an idea of how it is going to be at the end, as I often work from a photo, but that only gives me the broad outlines, the shape of the tree or where the sky is going to be. I am always problem solving as I go. What stitch is best to make this look like grass? How am I going to show the highlight? Is my yarn giving me the tones that I want? Why don’t I try this thread? So many ‘What if….?’ questions. And I love that about it. It’s playful.

So….what’s happening in your creative space? You will notice that I am not saying “studio” except in the title. I like the sound of it there! Creative space is much wider ~ I’m thinking studio, kitchen table, sketchbook, computer, note book, anywhere you create. And I am not limiting it to painters. Writers and quilters, printers and poets, everyone is welcome.

And it doesn’t have to be a final, well rounded piece. It can be, but it might also be a look at what you are working on, a tip, a technique, a new piece of equipment. It might be a photo of your work space or your inspiration board. Or even an inspirational quote!

Leave a comment below with a link to your blog post, Instagram photo, Facebook entry….whatever.

 

Paintings for the Exhibition

The organisation for our Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Exhibition is underway. There are diverse tasks we have to do, but, as you can imagine, one of the most important is selecting the paintings to hang in the Exhibition. To find out more about the Project on my blog click here, or go to the website for more detailed information.

[A reminder that our exhibition will be held at Ballarat Art Gallery in February 2018.]

It was always understood that that each artist would have at least one painting selected. From there on it is up to the team and the curatorial staff at the Gallery to decide which paintings best tell the story of our Project. I am offering up five for selection. I will add a link if I have blogged about the creating the painting.

Four paintings are all in the same genus, Cullen. There are more plants in the genus, but these four are common to the area, depending on the season, and were collected by Beckler. I have written about the genus here. My ability to paint Cullens developed as I went along. So, if I had time I would repaint the first, Cullen discolor. However, it belongs in the set. You might like to have a closer look at the painting in this post.

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Cullen discolor (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

The next year I found Cullen pallidum, the bushiest of the four, and with a soft grey leaf. It is probably the most attractive of the genus, but I have a very soft spot for the humble C. discolor. It seems that I only have a post about the finished work, and not about the progress.

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Cullen pallidum (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

The next to be found was Cullen australasicum, which turned out to be flourishing right on the edge of the Broken Hill Menindee Road. This one’s a real show off! I am sorry, but I have no posts about this painting.

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Cullen australasicum (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

The last, Cullen cinereum, is still a work in progress, but I hope to finish it in the next week. The spot where I found it last year is under water this year, so how lucky was that? This link will take you to the back story of my painting.

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Cullen cinereum (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

Lastly there is Senna artemisioides subspecies filifolia that I collected this year. [Read the post about it here.] It is definitely a work in progress. I included it for selection because another artist has painted the other Senna that was on Beckler’s list, and I thought the selection panel might like to have a pair of Sennas in the exhibition.

 

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Senna artemisioides subspecies filifolia (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

So, whether these are selected or not is now in the hands of the selection team. I don’t envy them the job, because all the paintings that have been painted have a connection to the Project, and all of them deserve to be in the Exhibition. Many artists have created superb works, often with beautiful, detailed microscopic drawings alongside the plant portraits.

I will leave you with a few closeups of my Cullens.

More Senna painting

A couple of posts ago I showed you the plant that I am going to paint from my time in Menindee. It is Senna artemisioides subspecies filifolia. While I haven’t begun to paint it yet, I thought I would show you a little more of the preparation process, and some of the information I needed to collect before I came home.

This is the specimen I am painting

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and this is the finished drawing, done on tracing paper.

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Drawing on tracing paper (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2106)

A close up of the drawing. (Yes, I am also wondering how I am going to paint it!)

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(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

As we collect specimens for the Herbarium we have to have very detailed notes about the environment of the plant. That information is recorded on a label that accompanies the plant to the Herbarium. You can see that precise information is needed. Beckler’s original collecting notes were often quite vague, with locality being something general like Lake Pamamaroo. Smart phones and GPS means that we can pin point our position.

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(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

This senna has the most wonderful seed pods. The mature ones are rich mahogany and twist and curl as they open to spill their seeds. I am going to add a row of them below the plant.

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(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)
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(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

 

A key aspect of the plant is, of course, colour. It was important that I worked out the right colour (and recorded the mix!) before the colours of the plant faded.  Sometime I am confident that I have nailed the colour only to find when I start painting that it isn’t right. These look pretty good now, so fingers crossed.

So, I have all the information I need to start the painting. All I have to do is clear off my very messy table and finish off a few other works in progress………

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The very messy work table! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)