California Wildflowers and Climate Change explored at Ukiah Museum
‘Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change’ is the latest exhibition at the Grace Hudson Museum. Chris Pugh-Ukiah Daily Journal
By Carole Brodsky, for The Ukiah Daily Journal.
February 9, 2018
Image: Rob Badger and Nita Winter, Poppies and Giliga in Antelope-Valley, California Poppy Preserve
California is known for its natural beauty, and the profusion of wildflowers up and down the state are another compelling attraction for visitors and an annual celebration for residents.
But over time, both climate change and human interaction with the environment have left noticeable marks on the wildflower landscape – one that is paradoxically fragile and surprisingly resilient.
“Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change” is the latest exhibition at the Grace Hudson Museum. The exhibit opens Saturday, Feb. 10.
It features the breathtaking photography of Rob Badger and Nina Winter, paired with informational panels that educate the visitor about the inextricable relationships between these fragile ecosystems and human activity, including what people can do to help preserve some of the most wondrous features of the California landscape.
Developed by the San Francisco Public Library, the traveling exhibit is being loaned to the museum by Exhibit Envoy, according to museum Curator Karen Holmes.
Both Badger and Winter’s work has been seen in numerous publications, including Time, Mother Jones, the New York Times, Washington Post, the Village Voice and many other publications.
Badger is known for his nearly three dozen conservation projects over the past five decades, and Winter has documented numerous Bay Area public art programs, including covering children of the Tenderloin, wildland fire fighting and other visual storytelling projects.
The photographs depict their unique approach to documenting the world of California wildflowers from Death Valley to the Sierra Nevada. Using several photographic techniques, the pair bring the flowers into an intimate, almost painterly focus.
In some photos, the flowers are allowed to gently come in contact with the lens. Dramatic botanical portraits are created by using a white or black background to create stark emphasis on a single bloom or floral feature. In other photographs, cloth is used to create alluring folds, shadows and texture surrounding the flowers.
“One amazing component of their work is that all their photographs are taken in the field, and no flowers are disturbed during the photographic process,” Holmes explains. “Every stick and every leaf is put back the way they were found.”
The painstaking process creates significant challenges for the photographers: everything from battling with the wind to suffering from severe “pins and needles” caused by holding uncomfortable positions for long periods of time during a photo shoot.
The results are worth it. A powerfully detailed portrait of a California Poppy staged against a black background, reaching toward an invisible sky feels almost as if the viewer is intruding on a private moment. Other photos look almost like watercolors or botanical prints.
“Coupled with the photographs are intense text panels which discuss how climate change is affecting our ecological regions in California – how they’re being impacted and what individuals can do to make a difference,” Holmes continues.
“If you just look at the images, they’re beautiful, but the associated text contains ominous warnings for the viewer – the ‘beast’ portion of the exhibit.”
One panel discusses how fire ecology has resulted in the proliferation of invasive species, as cultures from the Spanish to the Mexicans and finally Americans chose to repress Native American burning practices.
The exhibit was intentionally scheduled in spring, with the hope that flowers in the museum’s Wild Gardens would be in bloom, according to former museum Director Sherrie Smith-Ferri, who is continuing her focus on the Wild Gardens.
One panel features a variety of citizen science opportunities for community members to consider getting involved with. “A Journey in Time,” the beloved book by the late Peter Stearns will be available to help visitors identify wildflowers by season in the Mendocino County region.
“An interactive element of the exhibit includes a flex-cam attached to a monitor, which will enable visitors to focus on flowers up close and view them in the monitor,” Holmes continues.
In conjunction with the exhibit, the Sanhedrin Chapter of the California Native Plant Society is sponsoring several special events and presentations.
The first presentation will take place on Sunday, Feb. 11, when botanist and author Frederica Bowcutt, Ph.D. will speak about her book, “The Tanoak Tree: An Environmental History of a Pacific Coast Hardwood.”
The tan bark industry was a significant part of early Mendocino County’s economy, according to Smith-Ferri. “Helen Carpenter, Grace Hudson’s mother, wrote about the industry in a historical piece and Helen’s husband, A.O. Carpenter, took a series of photos of the industry, some of which were used in Frederica’s book.”
Tanoak bark, high in tannic acid, was shipped out of the county on rail lines and steamers to be used in the tanning industry until better techniques supplanted the need for the bark.
“Native Americans cherished the tanoak tree. Its acorns were among the most nutritious. They have nice, large nuts with a papery, peanut-like husk which were relatively easy to work with,” Smith-Ferri explains.
Bowcutt will discuss how the Tanoak tree has been alternately celebrated and maligned throughout history, characterized over time as a weed, a potential hardwood and a “trash tree” that has been most recently targeted by today’s logging industry which has utilized the controversial “hack and squirt” method of forest thinning.
The Tanoaks have had a rough go in recent years, says Smith-Ferri. “They’re struggling because of climate change. Sudden Oak Death Syndrome affects them the most of all the oaks, and they do poorly in the rainy season because the syndrome spreads more during wet winters.”
Bowcutt will cover information about the Tanoak species, their life cycle, uses and the human relationship to the tree which grows on the edge of conifer forests, providing a plentiful food source for many forms of animal life.
Badger and Winter will be at the museum on Sunday, April 22 to celebrate Earth Day and discuss the exhibition.
On May 12, Shelly E. Ryan and Mary Ellen Hannibal will present a talk on Climate Change, Species Extinction and Citizen Science. Ryan was a member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, and Hannibal is a journalist and author.
All museum talks are free with museum admission.
In addition to the main exhibition, wildflower paintings by Grace Hudson will be on display.
“We’re hoping to show eight or nine of Grace’s paintings, landscapes and individual images. Grace enjoyed wildflowers and regularly went to Potter Valley to paint. Fields of Lupine and California Poppies are one of her signature backgrounds,” says Holmes.
In coordination with the exhibit, three free wildflower walks led by Native Plant Society member Cathy Monroe will take place at Low Gap Park on Feb. 24, March 25 and April 21 from 10 a.m. until noon.
Each of the three special events at the museum take place from 2 to 3 p.m.
Notecards and smaller prints by the photographers will be available in the museum’s gift shop in the near future.
The Grace Hudson Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and on Sundays from noon until 4:30 p.m. Group and school tours are available by prior arrangement
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