Remarkable Explorers – Marianne North

My own easy photo of lotus plants in the Botanical Garden in Mauritius, All rights reserved.

In honour of International Women’s Day two days ago, I’d like to introduce you to a fascinating explorer from the late 1800s!

Marianne North, born in England on October 24, 1830, broke all the molds. I knew nothing at all about her until I happened across an episode several years ago on television, “Kew’s Forgotten Queen”, aired by the BBC. I was mildly interested, having been to Kew Gardens several years before, but as the documentary introduced more and more about its subject, I became engrossed.

Miss North (as she would have been addressed in her time) was the daughter of a prosperous landowner and politician. She took up flower painting at a fairly early age, perhaps inspired by trips with her father to visit Kew Gardens, where her father knew the director, Sir Joseph Hooker.

Her sister went the traditional route for women at the time of getting properly married, but Marianne had no interest in doing that. She travelled extensively with her father, through Europe and into the Middle East. Her mother passed away when Marianne was only twenty-five, and painting helped her through her grief.

On her visits to Kew she’d been so intrigued by some of the tropical plants that she determined to see their countries for herself. After her father passed away in 1869, she took advantage of her inheritance to do exactly what she wanted: travel the world, painting.

Can you imagine not only travelling all over the globe 152 years ago, crossing the oceans in a steamship to barely-explored continents, but doing so as a single woman? I think we have to give Marianne North extra points just for courage.

For fourteen years, she visited fifteen countries, painting the people and cultures, dramatic landscapes, and most especially the plants.

Her skill and scientific accuracy attracted a lot of attention, and she met many famous people of the day. Visiting Canada and the United States, she visited the home of famous Hudson River School painter Frederic Church, who built his famous Orientalist-style house Olana, near Hudson, New York. He encouraged her to visit South America. Charles Darwin suggested she go to Australia, where she spent a year.

Her paintings are extremely beautiful, and she went to extraordinary lengths to find some of the rarest species. One of the pitcher plants that she painted in Borneo, had been unknown to science at the time. It was named after her: Nepenthes northiana. It’s always been one of my personal favourites of all her work.

Nepenthes northiana (c. 1876), Marianne North Gallery, Kew Gardens. The painting shows the pitcher plant‘s lower and an upper pitcher.
By Marianne North – Scanned from: Phillips, A., A. Lamb & C.C. Lee 2008. Pitcher Plants of Borneo. Second Edition. Natural History Publications (Borneo), Kota Kinabalu., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3353798

North bucked the traditional stylized botanical paintings of the time, with parts of plants sedately placed on a light background, and instead vibrantly painted everything in its natural setting. Each painting became a time capsule, capturing the entire habitat as it looked in that era.

In 1879 Marianne offered her collection of paintings to Sir Joseph Hooker as well as commissioning a gallery to house them.

You can find out much more about her and view many of her paintings at the Kew Gardens website, and I encourage you to watch the original documentary on YouTube, The Incredible Life of Marianne North Through her Art and Adventures (Full Documentary), to see host Emilia Fox visit some of the same locations as a testament to Miss North’s remarkable passion and dedication.

May her life, and those of all the intrepid women before us, inspire us all to have the courage to live our dreams.

Outside the box wellness: winter’s magic

It’s a disheartening time to be a Canadian. There’s a large philosophical divide between the truckers who refuse to get vaccinated and the thousands of us who believe that in a world-wide pandemic, the greater good supersedes individual contrariness. We thousands have all had the vaccine and are doing just fine, apart from a couple of days of flu-type malaise after each injection. The development of vaccines has meant that millions of people no longer die from diseases like smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid, diphtheria and polio. I don’t argue the truckers’ right to protest, just their complete disregard of how their gatherings are disrupting the lives of thousands of people who, I believe, have just as much right to avoid getting sick.

When my frustrations reach boiling point, I head out to spend time in the peace and beauty of nature. Even in winter, you say? Winter is a wonderful time to get outside. I bundle up, grab my camera, and enjoy the artistry of the winter landscape.

Snow forms complex patterns on the frozen surface of the Welland Canal
A bollard creates its own animal shadow — I see a horse’s head
What appears to be some kind of buoy forms a bright spot on the ice of the Canal
Multiple tracks in the snow — I think some are squirrel, one white-tailed deer, and other I’m not sure of
A gorgeous blue jay explores a thicket along the Canal
The white backdrop makes everything look sculptural, like these black benches and bright red dogwood branches
An unidentified tree has buds on it!
A picturesque fence draped with tangled vines
More anthropomorphism — an evergreen shrub is transformed into a hulking winged beast
Even the snow has patterns, from smooth white, to windy swirls, to these granules that I assume dropped down from the trees above

Time capsule fall festivals + photographic art

Fall festivals are some of our favourite activities — they combine great atmosphere, perfect weather for strolling, good food, beautiful colours, fallen leaves to shuffle through. Last year most festivals weren’t running, so this year’s batch are especially welcome.

The two we’ve attended so far couldn’t be more dissimilar; the only common denominator is that they perfectly captured a period in time, one in the late 1800s, the other a modern-day take on art-in-the-park.

I’m on the mailing list for the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton, Ontario. If you’ve been following my blog you know that it’s already one of my favourite places to chill out as well as take photographs, and I’m always excited to hear about special events. In early September I received notification of something really intriguing, called “Seeing the Invisible”, i.e. Augmented Reality Art. The marketing described it as:
“Visitors will engage …through an app downloadable to their smartphone or tablet and encounter 13 unique and interactive artworks dotting the…landscape…This cutting-edge AR platform forges new links between the RBG landscape and global artists, harnessing the power of art to connect people to the natural world.”

None of our group really had much idea of what to expect, though, until we got to the first piece of art. With the special app installed on our phone or tablet, when we were in proximity with the artwork, we were prompted to activate it, and suddenly we could see the image on our device: an enormous boulder floating in the air, which we could walk around, lie or crawl under, and have our photo taken with if so desired.

The artist was El Anatsui from Ghana, who produces works of art out of thousands of bottle caps wired together with copper, “thereby catalyzing the transformation of familiar, mundane objects into startlingly poetic works of art”.

There were thirteen art pieces in all, each with specific meaning and style. Some were accompanied by music; some could be walked into to see something different on the interior than the exterior. This piece by Timur Si-Qin was called Biome Gateway and represented a temple cave that connected the garden we were walking through with a parallel landscape on the inside:

The interior was quite startling, a “virtual sacred locus of contemplation”:

One of the most interesting pieces was a massive doughnut-shaped symbolic representation of the number zero and its impact on mathematics.

Apparently the work was originally created for the city of Abu Dhabi, with its diverse population embodying coexistence and peace. The surface of the entire piece is covered in geographic coordinates that represent all the countries of the world. I really liked the concept of this one.

My personal favourite, by Israeli artist Ori Gersht, was called Forget Me Not. It featured a large, visually spectacular arrangement of flowers:

,,, which, when a visitor was close enough to ‘touch’, then exploded, scattering petals through the air of the large lawn where the artwork was located:

It was meant to evoke the creation of the universe and the transience of everything on earth, and included a commentary by three scholars offering different interpretations, but I just enjoyed the effect of walking amid the flower fragments, which lingered in the air for quite a while:

The exhibit was specifically chosen to take place in botanical gardens, to connect nature, art and technology without disturbing the natural environment. It opened simultaneously in only eleven gardens around the world, and we were extraordinarily fortunate to be close to the only exhibit in Canada. If you’re interested in finding out more and perhaps finding a location you can reach, visit the Seeing the Invisible website.

The very next day we traveled back in time at Pioneer Day in Jordan, Ontario.

Jordan is a small community along Twenty Mile Creek that was the first Mennonite settlement in Canada. The settlers had come north from Pennsylvania in 1799, and with the rich soil they soon developed a flourishing agriculture community.

Today the village is charming and trendy in the midst of one of the premiere icewine destinations in Canada, but the festival celebrating the early pioneers in the Niagara Region has been running for 55 years, long before the region became a mecca for wineries. My father used to take us when I was a child, and I remember cool fall days watching apple butter being made in huge kettles over a wood fire, the scents of apples and wood smoke, crisp sausages on buns, and a great family day overall.

My hubby and I have continued going sporadically over the years, but this year in particular it seemed like a nice fall activity to do. There’s a brand new and very modern museum on the site, which perhaps detracts a bit from the back-in-time feel that I used to love as a child, but there were still plenty of old-time enjoyments.

An 1800s steam engine still going strong at the entrance
The Lincoln Concert Band added a nice musical backdrop to the event
Apples are still cooked down into thick, lush apple butter, although the fire underneath is a little less rustic than it used to be
Bushels of fresh apples waiting their turn
A replica of an old covered wagon — pretty uncomfortable looking, on the whole
A sample lesson in the original 1859 schoolhouse – a docent inside recruited children as volunteers for the lesson
A local blacksmith was creating heating metal in these coals to produce fireplace pokers
A very old headstone in the small Haines Cemetery, which holds the remains of early settlers
Freshly-made apple fritters drew a long lineup
One of the shopfronts in a quaint strip across from On the Twenty hotel, which is affiliated with the winery by the same name

The two festivals couldn’t have been more different, but they book-ended a lovely weekend in fine October weather. Let me just say, thank goodness for the coronavirus vaccines that are allowing us to gradually return to normality and the opportunity to attend events again.

I’m also very pleased to announce that some of my photographic art is now available for purchase as wall art or on a variety of products through my site on Fine Art America. If you’ve liked my work that you’ve seen in my blog posts, I’ll just mention that I’ve introduced a special collection called Gothic Dreams — art for anyone who has a darker side that especially comes out in October 😀 Please do check it out!