We chose a painting by Alfred Bierstadt entitled “The Merced River in Yosemite”, painted in 1868. The MN Herb Society has been contributing to Art in Bloom for 25+ years. Gloria D. had a 25+ year tenure & Elly W. has been an artist for 15+ years. Carla J. & myself have been co-creators for the past 3 years. The process starts on a cold night the end if January. We received a link to the art that would be available for interpretation earlier in January & were able to preview the art available the event. We all looked at the art & each put together a short list of pieces that we thought would be appropriate. Speaking for myself, I look for art that I think we could interpret with herbs & I also consider the beauty of the art. There are both paintings & sculptures available to interpret. I was not able to attend the night of choosing, but all the floral artists go to the MIA, stand in line, & wait to choose their desired piece art. Carla arrived early & waited so that we could get one of our desired pieces. There were over 150 floral artists this year & we were able to choose 27th. Carla & Elly looked at the pieces available & decided on our painting. It was on our individual lists & therefore,they felt that since we all liked it, it would be a good piece to interpret.
AIB does offer an analysis of the painting that points out the “hot spots” of the painting. We received that analysis & use it during our planning of the arrangement. We met down at the museum one more time to look at the painting & discuss our vision. Because the vessel used in the arrangement is always a main component to consider, we try to figure that out first. We discussed having a potted
arrangement this year, but after consideration we decided to use a glass vase. Since the painting is of a river (although the river is not highly visible), we wanted the element of water in our composition. We also wanted to use rocks, although the AIB rules state no rocks, marbles, etc. Because Yosemite is a place of beautiful rock formations, we had a discussion about whether to follow the rules or not. In the end, we decided to take our chances & go with rocks. Carla’s brother studied geology & had given her some cool rocks. Elly scoured 9 Mile creek & found additional craggy rocks that fit into the look we were trying to achieve. Carla was put in charge of piecing together the vase with oasis in the middle & rocks surrounding the oasis. She said it was like piecing a puzzle together, but the end result was stunning & I felt it truly represented the beauty of Yosemite.
Bachmans has an AIB night where artists can preview various plants & flowers that can be preordered for the event. We try to stay with herbs, but of course, we have to consider other plant material because of the time of year & the limited availability of herbs. This year, however, we were able to use 100% herbs in our interpretation. We also want to feature the Herb of the Year, artemisia. We found 3 different artemisias to use : French Tarragon, Dusty Miler, & Silver Mound (I dug around in the snow to find my Silver Mound & placed cloches on them for about a month to hurry them along). We used the Dusty Miller to represent a small tree in the painting. The Limonium (the soft heathery plant), we felt was appropriate for the cliff because while the cliff was not a major element of the painting, it’s presence is still there. We wanted to express some presence of the cliff but have it be subtle & in the background. We felt the color of the Limonium & the subdued texture was perfect. Additionally, we wanted to incorporate the roots of the tree growing into the rock formations at Yosemite. We used mint & thyme to show this. We washed the soil from the roots of these plants & intertwined them into the rocks, not unlike the trees roots finding crevices in the Yosemite rocks. Bay Laurel, rosemary, & lavender were used to represent the large trees. We laid a small 2″ section of a branch in the composition to replicate the boat. And the beautiful spider mums (also an herb & used for medicinal purposes) to represent the exquisite light & cloud formations
portrayed in the painting. Because the Bierstadt painting reflects the stunning light filtering thru the trees, the placement of the mums was of careful consideration. We had pretty much completed the piece & Elly was trying to find the perfect spot for the last mum. She just happened to place it in a way that suggested the angle of the cloud formations & Carla & I noticed it immediately. Quite by accident this occurred, but it added greatly to the interpretation. Finally, the one scented geranium leaf represents the small alcove where the men are & the red fingers within the leaf represent the flames of the small campfire in the painting.
We never really know how our piece is going to look until the day of the event, but we do sketch out an idea during one of our meetings. It truly is a collaboration of the three of us. Everyone contributes to the process & we feed off each other’s ideas. In the end, I think we obtained the true essence of Bierstadt’s painting. We tried to represented the elements of “The Merced River in Yosemite” clearly with rock, water, the strength of tree roots, fauna, light, & even man.