Focused on the Flower
A local photographer's works showcasing the natural world add organic intrigue to indoor and outdoor spaces
The organic world has always fascinated professional photographer Laurie Tennent; at one point, in fact, marine biology was at the top of her career-option list. Although Tennent never formally pursued a career as a marine biologist, cultivating organic-inspired interests in her chosen profession has, no doubt, sprouted some intriguing botanical artwork.
Tennent, whose studio is based in Birmingham's Rail District, first started experimenting with photography, flora, and technology while a student at the College for Creative Studies. Today, as she continues to explore ways to capture a flower's beauty beyond traditional photography, her unique digital-art techniques (like a professional chef, she's not about to share the exact recipe) generate larger-than-life works of everything from tulips to pitcher plants to milk flowers, each popping from dramatic, pitch-black backgrounds. Like stage actors performing an eloquent soliloquy in the dark, Tennent's organic subjects mesmerize.
At one of her recent exhibitions in Paris, one viewer compared her botanicals to the 16th century Japanese art of Ikebana (flower arranging), which was heralded for bringing the soul of the flower to life.
"Flowers are one of the most photographed things in the world - an art subject done over and over," Tennent says. "I'm interested in isolating delicate living structures and amplifying them on a massive scale, transporting the viewer to a serene space where he or she is reminded to breathe and reconnect with simple beauty."
Currently printing on aluminum, Tennent is now bringing her work into the garden. She exhibited her newest creations in Michigan's ArtPrize 2011 and 2012 as outdoor sculptures.
"This gets the work off a white wall in a gallery and into nature," she says. As Michigan homeowners often lament the disappearance of their favorite blooms every fall, the "photo sculptures allow them to enjoy their blooms year-round," Tennent says. "One Palm Beach client placed these on her oceanside patio - the aluminum holds up well, even in the sea-salt air."
FLORA ABUNDANCE // Larger-than-life works punctuate Laurie Tennent's repertoire, including everything from unique plants and seed pods to tulips and peonies, as shown on these pages and the next. Note the white anemones photograph which is printed on aluminum and can withstand outdoor elements. "When I print them onto aluminum, people can place them in the garden," says Tennent, "and enjoy their blooms year-round."
SEE IT // Tennent’s botanicals will be on exhibit June 18-July 18 in the conservatory at Planterra, West Bloomfield, 248-661-1515 (preview event 7 p.m., June 17). You can also see Tennent’s work at the Robert Kidd Gallery, 107 Townsend St., Birmingham, (248) 642-3909, robertkiddgallery.com. Or contact her at Laurie Tennent Studio, 929 S. Eton St., Birmingham, (248) 822-3040, laurietennentstudio.com/shows/botanical. Prices available upon request. The artist offers custom work as well.
Botanicals Make Their Stamp
The U.S. Postal Service recently issued Vintage Seed Packets stamps, which feature 10 photographs of antique seed packets (printed between 1910 to 1920).
On the Hunt: Wall art that grows on you
1 Rack Rummage
Colorful botanical illustrations on seed packets stop gardeners in their muddy tracks at local garden center seed racks. Interior designers also love them.
"Framed seed packets would be terrific in a garden room or even a fancy garage - near gardening tools or shoes," says interior designer Sally Matak.
The staff at France-based Simply French Vintage (simplyfrenchvintage.com) does the rummaging for you. They find and sell colorful, original vintage French seed-packet labels and seed packets (the six French packets shown on the opposite page are from the 1920s).
"The labels and packets, with their brightly colored botanical illustrations, are interesting little works of art - they look wonderful framed," says David Gratton of simplyfrenchvintage.com.
2 Flee to the Flea
"Flea or antiques markets often have great old seed packets, old books, or vintage educational charts," says designer Caroline von Weyher of Flushing. "The educational charts were used to teach students about plants, insects, mushrooms, trees, etcetera. Framed, they are a beautiful addition to any room." Some of the folks at Ann Arbor's Old House Gardens (a shop that sells bulbs and heirloom plants) collect seed-packet art (shown on this page and opposite page) found in nearby antiques shops.
3 Log In
Von Weyher often browses panteek.com, naturalcuriosities.com, and theevolutionstore.com. Original works are available at suttonsbaygalleries.com (or better yet, visit Suttons Bay Galleries in person).
Drawn to Wallflowers
It's all in the details: Illustrations inspire designers to bloom with creativity
Botanical paintings and illustrations have drawn the eye for hundreds of years. And, through the ages, numerous cultures have depicted plants through illustrations to help with identification of species and medicinal purposes. Today, this detailed artwork adorns everything from food and bodycare labels to the walls of well-designed homes.
"I'm a huge fan of botanicals," says Flushing-based interior designer Caroline von Weyher, who recently moved from Birmingham to Genesee County to be managing partner of the new Two Birds Design & Decor shop in Flushing. "In my interiors, I've used new (already framed) botanical prints and original artwork of botanicals, and I've even found old books full of lovely renderings - I tear them out and frame them," she says. Her store carries large-scale (5- by 4-feet) botanicals from Steven Shell.
"Botanical art is terrific in garden rooms and mud rooms, or powder rooms and solariums/atriums," says Sally Matak of Bloomfield Township-based Matak Design. "The art would add peacefulness in master bedrooms (think serene, green walls). It would also be beautiful in a living room setting or a library. Or even, perhaps, above a desk in the master bedroom, where one might do correspondence."
"Until the 1850s, many botanical prints were hand-colored; (that creates) a unique synthesis of art and science which is a thing of beauty as well as part of the scientific heritage of the world," says Panteek Prints' David Panken. His retail website, panteek.com, features dozens of illustrations (including the strawberry one above right). The art form has even become popular among today's product marketers, says artist Douglas Schneider; when it comes to consumer appeal, shoppers often make a beeline to botanically themed packaging.
"Companies try to get as much eye-appeal as possible on the shelves to stand out against their competitors," says Schneider, an Interlochen-based botanical illustrator whose clients include St. Ive's, Clairol, and Bath & Body Works. Schneider, who's available for commissions (his work is shown below), uses watercolors and colored pencils for his nature-inspired art.
Piper Goldson, owner of Suttons Bay Galleries in northwest Michigan, has been selling botanical art that dates from the 1700s to the early 1900s for some 25 years. Her selection of antiquarian botanical prints represents plates by many of the world's foremost botanical artists, including Henry Andrews and Elizabeth Blackwell. Prices range from under $100 to thousands of dollars.
"We find our inventory the old-fashioned way - constant searching and having good connections worldwide," Goldson says. Some of the gallery owner's most-requested original botanical prints derive from London and Paris. "These are hand-watercolored copper engravings and original lithographs, created during the golden age of works on paper, when time was an illusion and artists created exceptional pieces."
Planting for the Future
Landscapers suggest Michigan natives for their clients' gardens
If you happen to be near the Waldon Creek development in Clarkston, take a look at the public landscaping areas. You may not know it, but you're ogling plants and blooms that grew wild in Michigan hundreds of years ago.
The subdivision's landscaper, Michael Saint of Clarkston-based Good Earth Landscape Institute, is on a mission to incorporate Michigan natives into his design schemes.
"There are some 1,800 plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers that are native to Michigan, many of which I include in my landscaping projects," says Saint, secretary of the board of the Wildflower Association of Michigan. Cathy Rosenhaus, owner of Cathy Rosenhaus Garden Designs in Farmington Hills, also supports mixing Michigan natives into a landscape. As a designer with a fine arts background, Rosenhaus says natives provide all the color and form that her clients are after, plus they provide a habitat for insects.
"We plant a lot of serviceberry, columbine, and dogwood, all native to the Great Lakes State," Rosenhaus explains. "Many of my clients, in fact, want only native."
Left to right: Black-eyed Susan, Black-eyed Susan, Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, Bee Balm
Rosenhaus finds that native plants offer "an easiness and integrity to design," so that garden spaces aren't overly designed. "But native plants can work within a formal design, too," she adds. Why are these two and so many others jumping aboard the native-plant wheelbarrow? Saint explains it like this: "When nonnative plants spread, they negatively affect ground water tables, alter wildfire patterns, and (impact) soil nutrients. They also choke off the native flora that benefits insects. It's all about a symbiotic relationship." Saint says anyone who has landscaping or a garden can make a major contribution toward supporting biodiversity.
Some of Saint's go-to plants include monarda, pink coneflowers, pale-leaf sunflowers, Michigan lilies, Michigan hibiscus, and swamp milkweed ("we need milkweed, which feeds monarch butterflies!").
"Once you lose a plant in the plant community, everything is affected, including birds," Rosenhaus says. As for the birds whose homes are near the Clarkston development, they should be pretty happy. Native green-headed and pink coneflowers - along with native black-eyed Susans - should be blooming there this summer, predicts Saint. A thriving environment, to be sure, for our fine-feathered friends.