Let there be light

Photo by John Santomieri

Here’s an example of indoor gardening I never could have imagined. Over the past five years, a former Buffalo mental hospital designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson (considered among America’s “big three,” along with Wright and Sullivan), has been developed into—so far—a boutique hotel, restaurant, and exhibition space. We used to call it the Richardson Towers; now we refer to it as the Hotel Henry. Art openings are held there every month or so; we attended one last Friday. It was not part of the opening, but a friend who works there showed us an interesting installation he had created featuring plants, pigments made from plants, and light.

The first thing you see in the (nearly) empty room are six largish potted plants, mostly scented geraniums (pelargoniums). Then you notice the walls, which are a soft, mottled violet.  Our friend, artist John Santomieri, explained that he had created pigments from amaranth, pokeberry (phytolacca americana), and sumac, mixed in some crushed amethyst and cobalt phosphate pigments, and applied the resulting casein-based paint to the wall. The reflected spectral light from this surface helps leaf and flower production. He also hung a painting that contains powdered geranium pigment in the space.

Like many area restaurants, the one at Hotel Henry tries its best to source local produce and other ingredients. It also uses its own supply of flowers, foliage, and berries for centerpieces. We noticed some geranium foliage on our table later that evening.

What did I like most about this? I am always happy to see live plants in public spaces. I also like the fact that this artist was allowed to take over a room and fill it with his esoteric experiment. Finally, I like visual art that incorporates the botanical world in interesting ways. Hmm—and maybe the next time I need to repaint a room …

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


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