A Passion for Plants
The botanical drawings of Ann Dubois- who renders everything from gnarly tree trunks to frilly flowers- capture the beauty and fragility of the Valley's greenery.
A Passion for Plants
Botanical artist Ann DuBois captures the beauty of
the Valley¡¯s green things ¡ª from shoots to nuts
by Ann Morrow
If you haven¡¯t noticed, an onion can be a fascinating example of nature¡¯s infinite imagination. Even the common red bulb usually seen sliced atop a burger has its own inner beauty. Just ask Ann DuBois, who examines the physical properties of vegetables, flowers, and trees with the zeal of a botanist.
A longtime resident of Saugerties, Ulster County, DuBois is a botanical artist, practicing an exacting discipline that combines scientific illustration with a visually pleasing aesthetic. ¡°Botanical art should be thoroughly observed, structurally correct, and have artistic merit. Those are the requirements,¡± she says. Although DuBois works in a bold, contemporary style, her flora studies reveal intricacies that satisfy the genre¡¯s highest goal: to give new perspective on the specimen itself.
As a matter of fact, her red-onion portrait was deemed worthy of presentation to the Queen of England. In April, DuBois was included in the Society of Botanical Artists¡¯ annual Flowers and Gardens exhibit at Westminster Gallery in London. The prestigious show is held in conjunction with the Royal Horticultural Society and is attended by its bluest-blooded sponsor, Queen Elizabeth. Among DuBois¡¯ five entries is an egg tempera painting of an American chestnut, a nearly extinct species that she observed at the Wethersfield Estate in Dutchess County. ¡°That¡¯s my Yankee-Doodle contribution to London,¡± she laughs, admitting that she was thrilled to have been selected for the show.
The Westminster show is the latest affirmation of a recent upswing in DuBois¡¯ career. Her work has been displayed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., among other places, and currently she has an entry in the Focus on Nature VIII exhibit at the New York State Museum in Albany (through September 12). ¡°What the jury looks for is not only the technical skill of the artist, but also if it stimulates curiosity about the subject,¡± says Patricia Kernan, curator of the exhibit. ¡°One of the nice things about Ann¡¯s artwork is that she approaches her illustrations with a sense of discovery.¡± Says DuBois: ¡°I like to get inside the plant, I like to see the layers and passages and textures. I do cross sections so I can see all that, and to feel as if I¡¯m entering that world. It turns on my senses.¡±
DuBois, who earned a BFA from Pratt Institute, moved from Brooklyn to Saugerties 30 years ago. Asked if the local scenery has been an influence on her art, she replies, ¡°It¡¯s made my art. I wasn¡¯t doing botanical art prior to moving up here. In the city, you¡¯re surrounded by processed and packaged nature. It¡¯s distant. Here, you¡¯re right in it. It¡¯s very inspirational. As one person said, ¡®You can be poor, and be having a terrible time of it, but you step out your door and you¡¯re in paradise.¡¯ The mountains are breathtaking.¡±
DuBois particularly likes old trees. ¡°At the Kiersted House historic site [in downtown Saugerties], they have 300-year-old trees. You go to areas like Rhinebeck, and it¡¯s one road after another filled with gorgeous trees. And there¡¯s a huge tree in the parking lot of the hardware store in Woodstock that¡¯s at least 100 years of age. It¡¯s sort of taken for granted, and it deserves to be seen.¡±
A honey locust with enormous, ¡°dagger-like thorns,¡± the Woodstock tree is included in DuBois¡¯ work-in-progress, Trees of the Hudson Valley, an egg tempera study of 12 specimens for a limited-edition portfolio. The tree pictures will also be available as individual prints. Is the series intended to capture the region¡¯s arboreal beauty before it disappears? ¡°I don¡¯t like to think negatively,¡± DuBois answers, ¡°but if it were to inspire people who were building new homes not to cut down the trees¡¡±
DuBois credits the increased visibility of her work over the last couple of years to having identified herself as a botanical artist. After an art student of hers, a retired botanist, suggested she join the American Society for Botanical Art, DuBois checked out the organization¡¯s Web site. ¡°When I saw it, I thought, ¡®I¡¯m home,¡¯ ¡± she says. ¡°Being part of this movement, I feel like I¡¯ve stepped into a stream that I can flow along with.¡±
She also says the resurgence of botanical art (a largely 19th-century passion that was relegated to the musty sidelines by modernism) can be attributed to one simple reason: ¡°People have a deep hunger to be in contact with nature. One of the marvelous things I find when people view my work,¡± she adds, ¡°is that they feel connected to it ¡ª the plant forms are echoed in our forms.¡±
Despite its antique origins, DuBois¡¯ work is distinctly contemporary. ¡°All art reflects its era,¡± she explains. ¡°Since the Victorian age, we¡¯ve had the Impressionists, and van Gogh, and Georgia O¡¯Keeffe. We have that boldness.¡± As for the intense colors she uses, DuBois says they come directly from her subjects. ¡°If you see a red rose, and you really look at it, and get involved in it, you¡¯ll find there are a lot of different colors. There¡¯ll be oranges, yellows, and purples combined to make that particular shade of vivid red. Because it¡¯s a living organism.¡± Which brings her to what she likes best about botanical art: ¡°It draws attention to the beauty of these things that surround us.¡± ¡ö
Ann DuBois¡¯ artwork can be viewed at www.botanicalartists.com/AnnLDuBois.