Article About the NESBA Exhibit at Fruitlands

Up close with plants: Botanical art at Fruitlands
Botanical art combines scientific accuracy with artistic principles and aesthetic appeal. Although no longer essential to scientists, physicians, and horticulturalists, botanical art continues to attract those who want to capture the beauty and complexities of plant life and interpret them in a personal way. Fruitlands Museum is currently exhibiting botanical art by members of New England Society of Botanical Artists (NESBA), on display in the Wayside Gallery and the Shaker Museum until Sept. 8. Called “Shaker Gifts: Seeds, Herbs, and Medicinal Plants,” the show affords visitors the opportunity to closely observe the intricacies of the plants, discern the artist’s intention, and learn the uses to which the Shakers put the plants.

Longtime Harvard resident, gardener, and artist Nancy Horrall, a member of NESBA, worked with Fruitlands Curator Shana Dumont Garr to create the show. As Horrall explained, a NESBA member can find a venue, choose a theme, and then “be in charge of” receiving applications and choosing artists for that show. Fruitlands, especially the Shaker Museum and garden, is a perfect venue, Horrall said, because of the Shaker tradition of cultivating and using the plants depicted in botanical art. Storyboards give background information about Shakers, botanical art, and NESBA, and a notebook provides bios of most of the participants. Each work is labeled with the name of the artist and both the Latin and common name of the plant. In rare cases the artist has titled the piece.

Early on, Horrall invited the selected artists (all women) to a presentation by Galen Beale, former herbalist at Canterbury Shaker Village. Horrall said she had been surprised by how little many in the group knew about the Shakers, and she felt it was important for them all to learn more, as it would inform the work they did for the show. She said the women discovered how knowledgeable the Harvard Shakers were about plants and their uses, how they created a lucrative business of packaging and shipping seeds as far away as England, and that they made regular trips to Boston to sell their herbal medicines to doctors. The Shakers were pragmatic in their approach to plants, keeping their seed packets simple and saving any decorative use of plants for their gift drawings. 

Horrall said she chose to pursue botanical art in retirement because she was anxious to get back to closely observing nature, to seeing things in clear detail. After a career of teaching art in elementary school, where subjects are treated in an age-appropriate, broad, general way, she was excited to linger over a flower and “narrow the vision with what is there.” She enrolled in a class at Tower Hill Botanic Garden with an instructor she found to be “superior.” Seven of the 14 students in the class have stayed in touch and continue to meet once a week in Harvard. 

Nature in art

I was fortunate to have Horrall as my guide through the exhibit. Although American naturalist and writer John Muir had the natural world in mind when he wrote, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks,” I found his words applied as well to my experience with the art. We looked at Horrall’s own watercolor of sage, and she said what had intrigued her about the plant—growing in her garden—were the “innies and outies,” the “bumpy” texture of its leaves. To draw the viewer to what she thinks sage “is all about,” she first draws the viewer to a closeup of a sprig of leaves where the “bumps” are very clear. Next to that is a lighter-toned image showing an entire stem of which those leaves are a part.

To the right of Horrell’s sage on the front wall is Marilyn Kulsea’s poppy, in colored pencil, where the full bloom of the pink flower is the dominant feature. On one side is a poppy bud and on the other a seedhead, and feathery foliage connects them. Each stage is scientifically accurate, but Kulsea has exercised artistic choice in putting the three together at the same time. A useful handout, “Uses for Shaker Plants,” says that poppy, as well as being a narcotic, can be a poultice for painful swellings.

Sue Neff chose a black background for her hellebore, perhaps to better show the light creams and greens of the flowers. For Kay Kopper, the important thing about wintergreen seemed to be its context. In her work, the bright red berries and green leaves are just one layer of the forest floor, with twigs and fallen leaves beneath them. Kitty Gilbert’s skunk cabbage is all about layers and textures, before the leaves unfurl.

Who’s in charge?

In looking at just these works, I see what Horrall means when she says the artist has a lot of choice, within the bounds of scientific accuracy, and her point that the challenge is how to get the illustration to convey the artist’s intention. I realize how much more complex botanical art is than I had ever noticed and how much room it leaves to be expressive. Asking,“Who’s in charge of this piece of paper?” is Horrell’s way of finding focus.

On another wall, Bobbi Angell, who, Horrall tells me, worked as a scientific illustrator and is a well-known botanical artist, has a tall stalk of pink digitalis, or foxglove. I have heard that the plant can be deadly, and perhaps that colors my sense of something slightly ominous about the dark speckles hiding on the insides of the hanging tubular flowers. Horrall pointed out the clarity of the work and the particular angle from which Angell has chosen to look up at the plant. Further down the wall, a sharply contrasting work is the monotone hollyhock, done by Barbara Nachmias-Kedesdy. Here, rather than stark details, the plant is somewhat blurred, but accurate. Horrall describes this artist as being at the more “arty” end of the spectrum of the genre.

A distinctive style

“Dandelion” is one of three paintings in the show by Elizabeth Golz Rush, whose style seems to be one of the most distinctive of the artists represented. In the center, the dandelion dangles its long roots, spreads out its jagged leaves, and waves both the full flower and the seed head, just ready to let go its hundred new dandelions. What is unusual is that there is a background, in this case, Shaker women gathering herbs with the buildings of a village behind them, recessive because of its light graphite, but still meticulously detailed.

The bright red pomegranate by Diane Piktialis immediately conveys its volume—it feels heavy as I imagine it in my hand. A three-branched sprig of yellow woad seems to be dancing. Around it is a border of blue. Horrall tells me that woad is a dye and that blue is the color of things dyed in it. I never realized that the color of a dye into which a material is put is not necessarily the color of the dyed material, because of certain chemicals in the plant.

While the Wayside Gallery is a large, open space, the historical Shaker office building is small and not as well lit. But what it has is authenticity, and one can imagine how this building once sat at the center of an active Shaker village, where plants, with their many uses, were an important part of life. Two more works of Golz Rush hang here, a clump of red clover and one of violets, both, like the dandelion, unobtrusive wildflowers. Again, all the parts of the plant fill the center of the composition, the colors vivid. Insects and other details fill out the space, either as balancing forms or background interest. “For me, closely examining a flower is a voyage of discovery,” wrote Golz Rush.

I had not noticed the frames in any of the Wayside works—which, Horrall said, is exactly the intent—but here I did notice thin gold frames on a couple of the paintings. A broad frame in a complementary tone seemed to work as very much a part of the milkweed pods, one open and one still closed, painted on vellum by Judith Bloomgarden, an artist with a most appropriate name.

The botanical works, which range in size, medium, and intention of the artist, could well have been inspired by an observation of 19th-century French scientist Henri PoincarĂ©: “If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing and life would not be worth living.”

copyright Harvard Press, LLC, 1 Still River Road, Harvard, MA 01451,2019
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Heads-up Tower Hill

NESBA Tower Hill Exhibit
Spring Flowers  April- May 2020 

Here is a plant list from Tower Hill.  These are some of the plants blooming in the gardens in April and May.  I will post PDF's of these in the future and they will be sharper.  Intents will be due March 18, 2020 immediately after the Flower Show.  You may use the same works for both shows. 

NESBA participates in the Newport Flower Show

The theme of the 2019 Newport Flower Show is “Audubon Artistic Adventures”. 

American ornithologist and painter John James Audubon (1785-1851) declared that he only came alive when "in the field" of his wild new land. His artful hand created a pictorial journal not only of the birds he loved but also of their habitats.

NESBA artists exhibited works which included:

· Tropical botanical subjects, which may include habitat in the composition.
· Landscapes, field studies and preliminary sketches.
· Natural objects (animals, shells, insects, etc.) with at least one botanical element included.
. Plants which were included, or could have been included, in an JJ Audubon composition.

NESBA member Arleen Hardiman received the award," Best in Show" for her work on vellum.

It is really a beautiful show. I want to thank all of the artists who participated in this exhibit. It was wonderful to have such great participation by our sister artists in GNSI-NE as well. A special thanks to NESBA members who hung the exhibit.

Joan Pierce-exhibit chair.

Frances Topping, Joan Pierce, Kathy Folino and Celeste Hurley

Newport Flower Show
Fri, Jun 21 – Sun, Jun 23
Rosecliff, 548 Bellevue Ave
Newport, RI

NESBA Exhibit, Shaker Gifts: Seeds, Herbs and Medicinal Plants opens at Fruitlands Museum

This group exhibition by the New England Society of Botanical Artists came together from a thematic call for work celebrating the strong heritage of Shaker seeds, herbs, and medicinal plants in Harvard and the surrounding region. Inspired by Fruitlands Museum’s important collection of Shaker artifacts, including an Herbarium by Elisha Myrick, an early seed broadside from Shirley by Oliver Burt, and some of the earliest seed packets themselves, a packaging and selling system created by Shakers. Select paintings will be exhibited in the historic Shaker Office, with the main group on display in the Wayside Community Gallery.

The Shakers are credited with developing the idea of putting seeds in small paper envelope-style packets to sell to the general public.

Shakers sold hundreds of kinds of dried herbs, herb extracts, herb oils and herbal patent medicines, earning an income that rivaled or exceeded that of their horticultural specialty, vegetable seeds. 

During the 19th century, however, the Shakers were probably best known for the herbal and medicinal preparations. The the American public moved toward the practice of “vegetable medicine.” Herbs were ingested or applied in dry form, or via fluid extracts and compounded medicines. The Shaker physicians and herbalists were known throughout the United States, and even in Europe, for their expertise in growing, drying, pressing, and extracting botanical medicines. 

On April 13, Galen Beale met with NESBA members.  

The Shaker Medicinal Herb Business is fascinating.  Harvard, as you know, had a huge herb business. Originally the Shakers made Herbariums [I think Fruitlands has one] to identify plants, but the Shakers never got into full scale botanical drawings with the exception Helena Sarle.
I would talk about primarily the New England Shaker Villages, their herbs, catalogs, ephemera and medicines and the men and women who produced them. When I was herbalist at Canterbury Shaker Village years ago I became fascinated with their medicinal business and compiled my research into a book entitled "The Earth Shall Blossom, Shaker Herbs and Gardens".  So I love the topic!
Galen Beale

 The exhibit opened with a reception on May 23.
The Fruitlands Museum
102 Prospect Hill Rd
Harvard, MA 01451
May 15 - September 8, 2019
Closed Tues

Call for Entry: SHAKER GIFTS: Seeds, Herbs, and Medicinal Plants

 May 15- Sept 8, 2019, Fruitlands Museum, Harvard MA
 Call for Entries: New England Society of Botanical Artists members’ exhibit at     Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, MA is open to any NESBA member in good standing (dues   paid).  Members may submit up to 2 works (space permitting)    

 Subject/Theme of the Exhibit:  SHAKER GIFTS: Seeds, Herbs, and Medicinal Plants 

 Due dates:
             Deadline for submission of Intent to Exhibit form* and wall label info and 
              (Artist Statement if submitting one): Thursday, April 25, 2019
         ■   Deadline for delivery of artwork to your delivery person: Wednesday, May 8, 2019
             OR as determined by your delivery person) Artwork may be priced for sale or labeled “Not For Sale.”
         ■   Artwork commission 60/40.
         ■   Exhibit hanging date: Monday, May 13, 2019         
          Retrieve your artwork from exhibit by arrangement with your delivery person     
  * Intent to Exhibit Form: See NESBA website for the Intent to Exhibit form and submit by Thurs., April 25,
         2019 Submit on line:
         or print and mail to: Nancy Horrall at 26 Bowers Rd. Harvard, MA 01451

Framing:  Please follow NESBA standards for this exhibit: white or off-white mats and simple, wood frame in a light, medium or gold wood color, plexiglass. No saw-tooth hangers. All artwork must be delivered in a bubble wrap “envelope” (see website for instructions on how to make one). No packing peanuts or artwork will be returned.
Packaging and Labeling:
Three labels can be found on the NESBA blogspot: and are to be used as follows:
1. Download PDF, print and fill out form.
2. Attach one label to back of artwork in lower corner.
3. Attach second label to front of the bubble wrap envelope so that your artwork is returned to you in your envelope.
     (see website for how to make a bubble wrap envelope)
4. Enclose third label in a Ziploc bag with $10 cash or check for hanging fee for each piece hung.

Delivery contact people for this exhibit:
Wellesley area: Celeste Hurley   Cape Cod: Ellen Duarte
Boston & North: Joyce Westner    West area: Nancy Horrall    South Shore: Sarah Roche

Artwork may be shipped via UPS or USPS to Joyce Westner by prior arrangement; please include return postage. Please contact Nancy Horrall
with details of any other drop off and/or pickup arrangements not listed above at:

Artist Statement: If you are submitting an artist statement/bio to be included in the exhibit’s promotional material, please send a one-page statement with your “Intent to Exhibit” form to Nancy Horrall. Guidelines for your statement are posted on the NESBA website. Artist Statements are optional. A small number of business cards may be included with your artist statement.
NESBA is unable to assume liability during the show.  Artists exhibit at their own risk. All artwork will be handled with the utmost care.  Artwork may not be removed prior to scheduled end of the exhibit. All due care will be exercised in handling the works submitted. The artist is responsible or secure framing and suspension

NESBA at the Boston Flower Show 2019

With spring flowers all around and the smell of fresh bark mulch,  Members of NESBA set up our display at the Boston Flower Show- March 13-17 at the Seaport World Trade Center

 The Boston Flower Show is an annual event at the World Seaport Trade Center.
200 Seaport Blvd
Boston MA

 NESBA members will be in the exhibit to meet the public and talk about their work.

Visitors enjoy the Show!

NESBA Talks of 2018, chaired by Suellen Perold

Programming for the past 4 calendar years has focused on education: What can NESBA members learn to make themselves better botanical artists? That has been the question; the challenge then was: What are different ways we can learn? Our NESBA talks aspired to be one of the ways of becoming a teachable moment. 

I hope you enjoy these inspirational talks as much as we have creating them.

First a huge shout out to Brian Bradley, our videographer, who rose way beyond the call of duty, to make these talks available. Thank you for your skillful filmaking and for being so available for all your tech help! 

Suellen Perold

Joan Pierce
"What I learned as President president of NESBA"

Deborah Cassady
"Paul Stankard: Botanical Artistry in Glass"

Jan Boyd
"Fibonacci and the Golden Ratio"

NESBA ends 2018 with a Celebration.


NESBA members celebrated a year of exciting programs at the Annual Holiday Party

In January we traveled to see the historic botanical pieces from the Arnold Arboretum’s library. First greeted by director of the arboretum, William Friedman, and then guided through the collection by librarian Lisa Pierson, we were treated to see works by Hooker, Martuis, Humbolt, Jacquin, Knoop, Catesby, Rousseau and more. 

At Tower Hill Botanical Garden Frank Bissette led the group and the tour was in the main entrance gardens and vegetable gardens. There were many examples of familiar and unusual plants, such as black tomatoes and milkweed "Bucky Balls", were visually exciting and inspiring. 

Members participated in several exhibits throughout the year.

"Seasons of the Leaf Exhibit " at the South Shore Natural Science Center included workshops by NESBA members.

For the 5th straight year The Friends of Borderland State Park in Easton, MA have invited NESBA to put on its much enjoyed Demo Day. The Friends consider NESBA's Demo Day to be its most successful event for the general public.

The annual participation in the Boston Flower Show is a highlight event in the NESBA calendar. The exhibit is open to all members and is always well received by the public.

A NESBA members’ juried exhibit at the 2018 Newport Flower Show took place at Rosecliff Mansion in Newport RI on Friday June 22 thru Sunday June 24, 2018.

Speakers presented enlightening programs

Glorianna Davenport Co Founder of the MIT Media Lab and owner of Tidmarsh Farms gave a talk on restoration of the working cranberry farm into the largest freshwater ecological project in the northeast. After the program members met at Tidmarsh Farm for a day of sketching and painting.

"Linda Karlsberg's presentation on Saturday was terrific. Her method of investigating the effects of light on well-defined subjects, as she illustrated with her extensive series of beautiful water lily and lotus paintings, was clearly presented and inspiring. "