Location: Café Gallery
Drawing of Bunchberry (Cornus candadensis), by Karen Stomberg
Collected Treasures: Six Alaska Wildflowers is the result of two years of work, and the support of a Rasmuson Individual Artist Award. It contains three drawings each of six species: Fireweed, Wild Iris, Bunchberry, Twinflower, Wild Prickly Rose and Monkshood. The first illustrations are drawn from dried and pressed specimens collected by the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899, now housed at the National Herbarium. The second group are drawn from species collected mid to late 20thcentury and housed at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Last are my drawings of live plants, collected near Fairbanks, summer 2018.
I am very conscious of the preciousness of our world and the efforts made by science to protect and preserve, catalog and document each piece of it. My goal began as an artist recording the beauty of six iconic wildflowers. This deepened with the imperative of wanting to bring images of the collected plant specimens out of the herbarium and into the light in order to draw attention to the stories they tell of exploration, exploitation, and of my own relationship to the living plants.
After starting to learn botanical drawing in earnest, I discovered the collected plant specimens in the University of Alaska Herbarium and made a drawing directly from an iris specimen there. The dried plants retain some delicate color and fine detail. I was drawn to them and became curious about the history of botanists and plant hunters in Alaska. Some research led me to the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899, and I tracked down the collected plant specimens from that expedition to the National Herbarium at the Smithsonian. I traveled to Washington DC to draw the beautiful old Alaska plant materials. I was moved when I saw them for the first time and was inspired to begin the project that resulted in these three sets of drawings of six wildflowers.
Q&A WITH THE ARTIST
Why did you pick these six particular flowers?
Fireweed, Wild Prickly Rose, Wild Iris, Monkshood, Bunchberry, and Twinflower
Each of these species has been a familiar part of my life here. They encapsulate moments of joy and discovery. Like music, they viscerally connect me to times and events here. As I drew them and wrote about them, I realized my emotional ties, but in the beginning they were chosen for practical reasons. I knew I could find them all close to home. They are ubiquitous and beautiful. I was also excited to find excellent digitized images of specimens collected by the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899 in the National Herbarium online database, and then corresponding specimens collected by or housed at the University of Alaska Museum of the North Herbarium between 1960-2000.
What is it about botanical drawing that inspires you as an artist?
Botanical drawing usually begins with being inspired anywhere, everywhere, inside or outside, on a walk, in the yard or traveling—by an awareness of plants and trees, shapes and colors that distract me and invite me in for a closer look. I love to take a plant apart, to look at all aspects and pieces of it, figure out how it works, grows, reproduces, and attracts pollinators. The engaging process of working out how to draw elegant, complex forms on a two dimensional piece of paper comes next. Finally, creating a drawing with layers and layers of color, trying to achieve the beauty of plants amazes and challenges me. The work is focused and satisfying. I try to arrive at a degree of accuracy interpreted through my own aesthetic.
What do you find inspiring (interesting) about the connections between art and science?
I have a hard time drawing a line around myself as an artist. So many of my material and intellectual processes are shared with scientists and others. For instance, I have an affinity and tolerance for a state of openness with careful observation, experimentation, and interpretation. In my botanical art, I love to dig deeper into plant subjects to find their stories. Scientists begin with curiosity, asking questions and then being slow to pronounce one definitive answer. They also allow their creativity and passion to find broad relationships across the boundaries of nature, history, culture, and imagination. Science seeks answers ultimately through quantifiable and replicable means, and art uses broader ways to record and communicate. Both disciplines travel twined paths.
What are you hoping the audience will take away from this exhibit?
I hope viewers will take away a sense of the importance and beauty of the work that field biologists, botanists, and this herbarium do to create a living record of Alaska plants. Herbarium specimen sheets collected here are similar to fossil evidence in that they preserve a record of each plant—being in a specific place at a specific time. They provide a point of reference in an ever-evolving collaboration through time and space.
What does it mean to be able to reach visitors from outside the community?
We think of Alaska as having extremes in all things; a great and vast land, oceans alive with fish and marine mammals, wide skies filled with unending sun—unending dark and brilliant aurora borealis, an abundance of plant and animal life. It is also fragile, tenacious, interconnected, and always changing. The smallest plants are vital. I am happy to share drawings of six of my favorites and hope visitors seek them out for a close look.
Karen Stomberg is a visual artist who shifted mid-career to botanical drawing. She is the recipient of a Fullbright Memorial Fund Award, a Rasmuson Arts Educator Award, A Rasmuson Individual Artists Award, and numerous other awards from the Alaska State Council on the Arts. In retirement, she still teaches Botanical Illustration at UAF. She is retired from a long career as an arts educator and administrator.
This presentation is part of a rotating schedule of exhibits featuring local artists who teach as adjunct faculty at UAF.