Browsing the LATimes yesterday, I found Deborah Netburn’s article on Botanical Serigraphs: The Gene Bauer Collection. Gene Bauer is a California gardener and naturalist who planted almost a million daffodil bulbs behind her property and was the native flora chairwoman of California Garden Clubs, Inc. during the 70s. As chair, her job was to educate the members of the clubs about native flora, so she traveled throughout the state, studying wildflowers. During 1972-78, she created over 50 small booklets containing screenprints of her own drawings of native plants, each accompanied by an essay.
Each booklet focused on just one plant, like the desert mariposa (Calochortus kennedyi) or the buckhorn cholla (Opuntia acanthocarpa). The drawings are clean, accurate yet simplified, and vividly colored. (Actually, though I’ll be happy to have the book, I’d love to get my hands on an original print.)
These are the type of projects we so rarely see now. These books are much like the broadsides of the literary world—also popular in the 60s and 70s—where poets would do a small print run of a poem and perhaps an artwork in a small booklet or folded poster. I have a few of these, and once curated an exhibition of them. It’s really a labor of love because there’s no money to be made from this type of project. Indeed, Gene Bauer sent her books (there was usually a print run of 50) free to her fellow flower enthusiasts; she bore all the printing costs herself.
Bauer did her initial drawings with colored pencils and then hand-screened them on papers of various weights. This is not traditional botanical drawing; the shapes are simple and bold, with a strong graphic sensibility, many of the colors brighter than you’d expect. There is a strong Modernist influence, though no abstraction, of course. The essays are well-researched appreciations; she does not pretend to add new botanical knowledge.
The only reason this book is even possible is that the people who received the booklets saved them. Bauer’s house and collection was destroyed in a fire in 1997; friends returned their copies to replace the lost booklets and then this collection of all of them was created, by map publishers (who now specialize in geographic software) ESRI.
I would love to have a book like this with drawings of New York State wildflowers. As Amy’s Wicked Plants demonstrates so well, drawings of plants bring out subtleties of shape and form as no other medium can.