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'Botanical Serigraphs: The Gene Bauer Collection'

February 20, 2010 |  6:00 am
Bauer_desertmariposa The book "Botanical Serigraphs: The Gene Bauer Collection" landed on my desk a few weeks ago. It was full of prints -- each depicting a single plant -- with '70s graphic quality. Immediately, I could sense the affection the artist had for each plant. 

The prints, it turned out, were from the '70s, but the artist hadn't made them to sell, as I had assumed. Instead, she created them as part of handmade booklets -- almost like an early version of a 'zine -- that she sent to members of the California Garden Clubs Inc. -- first when she served as native flora chairman from 1972 to 1974 and then as arboretum and botanical garden chairman from 1976 to 1978. 

So how did these 50-odd booklets become this lovely new book? My full story on Gene Bauer's book begins with the 1 million daffodils in her backyard, a wildfire and the interest of Jack Dangermond -- the very wealthy founder of ESRI, the geographic and mapping software company.

In the original booklets, Bauer's prints accompanied her botanical essays, which read like love letters sprinkled through with bits of poetry. Bauer_daffodilsShe describes a jacaranda tree this way: “They appear as ethereal, wispy, billowy, pale lavender-blue clouds, and to encounter them is an especially soothing experience.” And she writes of the California redwood: “A redwood is a graceful beauty from its earliest youth, as if already aware of its potential. It is pyramidal shaped with dark green leaves that are narrow, flattened, and arranged like feathers on slender branchlets.” 

How thrilled the garden club members must have been to see Bauer's booklet in their mailbox each month. And how lucky we all are that they've been collected and reprinted.

More excerpts from Bauer's booklets, and a video after the jump.

The following are excerpts from "Botanical Serigraphs: The Gene Bauer Collection"

Snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea): "The whole plant looks as if it is brilliant red, but upon close examination, you see a variation in the intensities of red. The stalk seems to be the flesh color of rosy cheeks; the exterior of the flowers are a deep rose color; and the interior and lobes, a glowing crimson. The bracts that grow between the flower are a fiery blood red. Even the thickened scaly portion below ground level is red, a blood red."

Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri): "The petals are pure stark white and have an especially diaphanous quality about them, appearing crinkled as if made of crepe paper. At the center is a glorious tassel of golden stamens.... I had never before attempted to make a drawing of this particular flower, and it was near the end of its blooming season after an extremely hot summer when I started. So the late bloomers were small -- five inches across -- and did not last long when cut, but I was very enamored of them. It was a delightful experience just to study the structure of the flower. Each petal was filled with what I like to think of as character, and I was excited to depict it in several different poses."

Sweet orange tree (Citrus sinensis): "Many varieties, especially the Valencia, are resplendent in brilliant orange, bright white, and rich green in the same moment: this is because the tree is producing a crop of ripening fruit, blooms for the next season's crop, and small green fruits -- all at the same time! A tree exhibiting all these various phases of fruit development at once is truly a wondrous sight, but unfortunately, few take the time to notice then look and really see."

Purpleleaf plum (Prunus cerasifera 'Thundercloud'): "The name fits it well. Like silence broken with a wild clap of thunder from the sky, this tree's rich, dark leaves, contrast strikingly with its pale pink cloud of soft, billowy flowers."

I had trouble imagining how the images and the text fit together until Bauer sent me a remake of one of her booklets. Here is a video of me paging through the book that hopefully conveys what a labor of love each booklet was.

-- Deborah Netburn

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Photos from top: Desert mariposa print by Gene Bauer; Daffodil print by Gene Bauer. Both prints courtesy of ESRI. Video by Ken Kwok.