Human Flower Project
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Two Bloomers: O’Keefe and Warhol
Santa Fe show pairs the flower paintings of two 20th century masters.
Red Canna, Georgia O’Keefe, 1923
University of Arizona Art Museum
Andy, Georgia, I’m ready for my close-up.
So say the blossoms in Flowers of Distinction, an exhibition now on view at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The show includes 41 flower paintings by the Queen of the Bleached Cow Skull and the Knave of Pop.
O’Keefe’s flower paintings, many executed in the 1920s, are bee’s-eye views. They carry us through undulating landscapes of petals, stamen, pistil, a super-reality of female “privates.” Warhol’s silkscreened flowers blow hibiscus (or are they marigolds? impatiens?) up to tire-size. Foliage retains some photographic detail but the flowers themselves, like Warhol’s icons of Mao and Marilyn, are purposefully generic, the artist splashing them with color, often printing them in grids. Warhol’s flowers, the equivalent of mass plantings, may even have been satirizing O’Keefe’s works, her burrowing bloom-by-bloom intensity.
Flowers 1 1970, Andy Warhol
I find it interesting that both Warhol and O’Keefe worked initially as commercial artists, and both succeeded in creating strong public images, O’Keefe garbed in white, squinting through her handsome wrinkles, Andy behind wraparound sunglasses, deadpan, crowned with a platinum wig. That they both also took up the challenge of flower painting makes sense; where lesser artists dismissed (or feared) a subject so hackneyed and so beautiful, these two managed to make it new.
“Flowers of Distinction” runs through January 8, 2006.
Friday, July 29, 2005
Floriculture—Women Be Wise
A women’s flower co-op in NE Brazil wins awards to grow on after many lean years.
Women make up the majority of the cut-flower workforce in Latin America and much of the rest of the world, but floriculture business-owners are mostly male.
A group of 21 women in Brazil’s northeastern state of Paraiba banded together and set up their own enterprise in 1999. The Cooperative of Floriculturists of Paraiba has now earned both national and international recognition for entrepreneurship.
Women of the Paraiba Co-op
prepare the greenhouse
Photo: José Mariclio de S. Santos
“It took three years to get the essential loan so as to establish the greenhouses for the planting of chrysanthemums. ‘We took our project to be analysed by many banks. But we had nothing to present as guarantees, nobody would give us credit,’” said Maria Helena Lourenço dos Santos, the co-op president.
Before their first loan was approved, the women took courses in flower cultivation and the structure of cooperatives. In 2002, they received $32,000 (USD) through Cooperar, a partnership between the World Bank and the Paraíba state government.
“We spent ten months working on the construction of the flowerbeds and of the greenhouses without earning a cent”; the loan monies were invested in the business.
The co-op’s treasurer recently won a regional award for entrepreneurship, and the group as a whole earned the Innovative Social Experiences Award from the World Bank. Cash from these awards will build an office for the co-op and a classroom for the workers’ children.
“Nobody believed that the group made up just of simple women like us could be successful. What saved us was the union and the determination for the accomplishment of this dream,” Lourenço dos Santos said.
Note: We’ve been in contact with Juliet Gathoni, a student at University of Nairobi (Kenya), who is working toward an exchange program focused on the floriculture business. She writes:
“We would like students from other countries to come and work in our project. This project is still in its early stages; so far we have decided to go social, to work with the flower companies to improve the working conditions in the flower companies. We thought of starting a day care centre in the flower companies so that the women working in the flower companies can leave their children there and then go the flower farms.
“The aim of this project is social as well as business. We would like to assist Kenyan flower firms to improve their business. As a club we would like to bring in trainees from abroad to market Kenyan flowers abroad, assist in the chemical requirements, and some social activities.”
(In the Paraiba Co-op, working women ARE the company. Perhaps this model could serve in Kenya too.)
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Scientists Sneeze at Echinacea
A new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says the herbal remedy won’t prevent a cold or lessen symptoms.
Photo: Garden Guides
Scott Ogden writes that coneflowers—purple petals and orange centers—clash even with themselves. They certainly have been subject to controversy.
Echinacea angustifolia was used by Plains Indians for all sorts of ailments, from mumps to snakebite. Today, it’s one of the most sought after products in herbal medicine. Last year alone, “Americans spent $155 million on products that contained the herb,” mainly to ward off common colds.
A major new scientific study, involving 437 subjects, has concluded “extracts of E. angustifolia root, either alone or in combination, do not have clinically significant effects on infection with a rhinovirus or on the clinical illness that results from it.” The experiment had been designed to study the effectiveness of three different preparations of echinacea root in preventing colds or minimizing sniffles and sore throat. But when compared with the effects of the placebo, echinacea in any form provided no remedy at all—or so the scientists contend.
Dr. Ronald Turner of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, who led the study, wrote that with these findings, “the burden of proof should lie with those who advocate this treatment.”
The American Botanical Council had its rebuttal ready. In a statement released today, ABC raised several issues, among them— that the plant extracts used in the study “do not correlate with commercial echinacea products,” that doses were too infrequent and too low, and that the test was administered to college age people only.
We’re eager to hear what our herbalist readers—and anyone else—thinks of the new study.
(I’ve only tried echinacea once and honestly can’t remember if I caught a cold or not. Certainly a bouquet of coneflowers would alleviate self-pity, one of the more debilitating cold-symptoms.)
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Peony, Plum or Four Gentlemen?
In China, there’s old complexity and new urgency about picking a national flower.
Peony, by Yun Shouping
(perhaps China’s national flower)
Image: Dr. Kristi Siegel
When it suits them, Europeans and Americans dust off the Victorian “language of flowers” and assign meanings to blossoms. In China, codebooks aren’t required. From what we can tell, plants and flowers are still freighted with significance in China, part of popular culture. Most anyone could tell you that a pine tree stands for self-discipline, a peony means wealth.
Where flowers are more than ornamental, decisions about them are worth deliberation, even haggling. And so it goes in China. People’s Daily reports that 62 members of the national academies of Science and Engineering have been working hard to select a national flower. “With the 2008 Olympic and 2010 Shanghai World Expos drawing near, it is imminent to solve the problem, and it is time to end the debate.”
Today’s story suggests that the team of experts will recommend two flowers, the plum and the tree peony. “Tree peony has been popular in China since the 7th century and represents good fortune, love and prosperity and is the symbol of material world.
“The plum blossom is one of the few flowers that blossoms in winter. Experts say plum blossom symbolises the unyielding Chinese spirit that never bows to coldness and is the symbol of the spiritual world.”
It’s not often a nation faces an overt and public choice between the material and the spiritual, or, as China seems poised to do, dares to pick both. The experts realize that choosing more than one flower may dilute the potency of either emblem.
Emperor Qian Long (1736-1795)
with plum blossoms and bamboo
Image: Chinese Embassy of Nepal
Though the Chinese government didn’t ask us, we favor another idea that’s been proposed: to choose China’s four “noble flowers,” sometimes referred to as the “Four Gentlemen.” Traditionally, plum, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum have been emblems of the four seasons, winter, spring, summer, autumn, each with its particular weaknesses and strengths. The four noble flowers are everywhere in Chinese art; they even appear on the tiles of Mah Jong. Rather than a logo, convenient for plastering on the Olympic program, they communicate something truer and more interesting—about the variation within China’s complex society and the ever-changing requirements of being an international citizen.