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Petaluma Arts Center highlights the mystique of botanical art

Before there were cameras and before images could be captured by mechanical means, scientists relied on artists to render and chronicle the botanical life of the planet.

The Petaluma Arts Center’s newest exhibition, Floribunda, is a celebration of the art and science of botanical drawing as depicted by 36 artists from nine countries. The show, which runs from Oct. 16 to Dec. 11, is the last stop in a two year journey of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation’s 14th International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration.

Floribunda is the name for a rose bush, which is long blooming and produces clusters of large flowers and evokes both the fecundity of the plant world and the sumptuous nature of the drawings in the exhibit.

“Giving it the name Floribunda felt like it was great way to define the overall feeling of the exhibit,” said Kim Chigi, the exhibition manager.

While the advent of photography might seem to make precision botanical drawings no longer relevant, Chigi sees great value in this kind of art.

“There is an intimacy to this exhibit that can’t necessarily be articulated through photography between the artist and the subject matter,” she explained. “The illustration process allows each artist to spend more time observing, studying and accurately depicting the details and cross sections of the plants they are illustrating which, in turn, allows the viewer to connect in a different way, a more intimate way, to the natural world around us.”

Oakland sculptor Evan Kokler, who is among three Bay Area artists displaying sculptural interpretations of various plant in the show, seconded Chigi’s observation.

“The artistic interpretation is so individual and unique that you would not get through photographic documentation,” Kokler said. “Our reaction to it is both personal and universal.”

Kokler is showing a piece from his series on the Asian carnivorous Nepenthes plant as well as a suspended sculpture of the Central American Pelican plant, a large ominous looking flower.

He’s had a lifelong fascination with unusual forms and was immediately drawn to these particular plants because of their exotic qualities.

“For both pieces, there is a strange haunting beauty to both species and their shapes are not what you would think,” he said. “I want the viewer to see themselves in these plant forms, these forms in nature. I hope that people recognize similar functions and roles between themselves and the plants, that they see a reflection of themselves in the diversity of forms in nature. And I want them to be drawn into the aesthetic quality and the beauty of the forms but I hope it brings up conversation about themselves and society as a whole.”

Kokler, along with other botanical artists, will be participating in a series of lectures and workshops open to the community.

This is the first time the Petaluma Arts Center is hosting the display from The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, a research division at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that creates an exhibition of botanical art every two years.

“We wanted to branch off in a different direction,” she said. “There is a wonderful community of botanical artists in and around Sonoma County. This beautiful exhibition is a way to show the integration of art and science and how artists view the natural world around us.”

A “Frolic! Bal Masque” fundraiser will be held on Oct. 15, and will offer a sneak preview of the exhibit.

For a complete list of scheduled events, visit petalumaartscenter.org.

(Contact Elaine Silver at ?argus@arguscourier.com.)

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