Botanical art welcomes warmer weather in Brandon

BRANDON — Artists often focus on the elegance and beauty of plants and flowers, depicting them in a spectrum from abstraction to the minute, scientific detail of botanical illustration. Through the centuries, botanical art has combined precise observation of plant life with the balance and beauty of original compositions. “Prelude to Spring: Botanical Art in Vermont,” a new and distinctly different exhibit, opens at the Compass Music and Arts Center in Brandon on Friday, Feb. 17.
The exhibit presents the work of three of Vermont’s finest botanical artists. Bobbi Angell, Susan Bull Riley, and Stephanie Whitney-Payne. These artists create watercolor paintings and etchings derived from careful observation of plants and flowers.
The work of Angell, Riley and Whitney-Payne all show an obvious love for the subject. Creating botanical work is a slow art form, where hours or even days can be spent on a single bloom, intently observing botanical details and faithfully recording them as buds open into flowers and blossoms fade, wither and die. The artists clearly have a passion for the plants as well as the work, revealing a relationship with the subject that is intimate and deeply focused. 
Angell began her career with a botany degree from the University of Vermont in 1978 and has been drawing, and growing, plants ever since. She is basically self-taught, yet has developed an impressive career as a scientific illustrator and artist for John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seed catalog, the popular New York Times garden column, and the North Hill Garden memoirs by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, among others. Angell’s copper etchings will be displayed. Printmaking is relatively new to Angell (who also works in pen and ink), a process she said she was immediately smitten with.
Watercolor is another common medium for representing the botanical world. Its translucence allows the white paper to reflect light back to the viewer, and the medium allows for the most delicate of brushstrokes and breathtaking detail. Many subtle layers of color, applied delicately one on top of the other, create depth and a luminous glow. When painting botanical images, Riley and Whitney-Payne reach for the watercolor paints.
Birds and plants have attracted Riley’s awe and admiration from her earliest memories growing up in Burlington so the careful study of their form and color through painting was a natural response for her. Her work has received honors in galleries throughout Vermont and New England and is in the collections of the New York State Museum and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and has also been published by American Chestnut Foundation and National Science Foundation. Her work currently hangs in the Vermont State House.
Whitney-Payne, when she moved to rural Vermont, made the transition from a publishing career to painting primitive landscapes and then to the detailed nature of botanical painting, studying under Ann Marie Evans. Along with her work depicting native and cultivated plants, found in collections here and abroad, she continues on a personal project of painting a series of plants used in chemotherapy and medicinal treatments — some of which are on display at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Ascutney Hospital in Windsor, and the Sojourne Community Health Clinic in Westminster.
The three artists are members of the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA) and the New England chapter (NESBA).
There will be an opening reception on Friday, Feb. 17, from 4-7 p.m. The exhibit runs through April 1 at Compass Music and Arts Center, Park Village, Brandon. For more info, visit www.cmacvt.org.

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