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A painting of an Agava Americana or Century plant.

The watercolor painting of the Agava Americana var. Marginata or Century plant by Rita Parkinson.

Botanicals come alive at Weisman

By Pauline Oo

Published on June 30, 2005

As you wander through the latest exhibit at the Weisman Art Museum, you'll catch yourself muttering, "Wow," a lot. Not only will you be dumbstruck by the painstaking detail in many of the drawings and paintings on the walls, you'll be astonished by how many times you're tricked into thinking you are looking at a photograph.

"Fresh Cut: An International Juried Exhibition of the American Society of Botanical Artist" showcases the work of 52 artists from the United States, India, Canada, England, and Australia. The collection represents a diverse array of plants--you'll see fruits and flowers, as well as fungi--in a wide variety of media. There is acrylic on canvas, crayon and watercolor on paper, egg tempera on wood panel, graphite pencil and gouache... The true-to-life collection also represents a high standard of scientific accuracy, technical skill, and aesthetic quality. (Three judges scrutinized each picture based on those very qualities. More than 100 artists submitted 300 entries for the chance to be part of this exhibit.)

"Fresh Cut" is as much a visionary feast as it is a little lesson in botany. Did you know that the plain old squash has the fancy name, Cucurbita Moschata? Or that Cynara Scolymus and Punica Granatum are merely the humble artichoke and pomegranate, respectively? Scientific names abound alongside common names in this exhibit. A treat, really, for the curious-minded (and for those who want to impress loved ones at the grocery store--"Honey, will you get us some eggs? I'm going to grab us some Solanum Melongena (eggplant)."

"Fresh Cut" Thursday programs

July 14, 7 p.m.
Free gallery talk: "Cut and Dried: Examining Botanicals in Art and Science with Anita Cholewa and Marilyn Garber"

July 28, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Workshop: "Introduction to Botanical Painting"
$75 ($55 Weisman members, students, and seniors)

September 15, 7 p.m.
Free gallery discussion: "Visual Arts Critics Union of Minnesota's Trialogue with Fresh Cut"

September 22, 7 p.m.
Free lecture: "In Search of Ars Botanica: Plants in Art from Medieval to Modern Times" by Thomas O'Sullivan

To learn more about the events, see

The art of botanical illustration has been practiced since antiquity. Plants have appeared decoratively and for symbolic reasons in Egyptian tombs, on ancient Greek vases, and in Roman mosaics. In medieval times, herbalists illustrated manuscripts with medicinal plants, detailing their curative powers as well as appearance. In the 17th century, a botanical artist was always a part of an expedition from Europe to the New World. His or her job was to document the plants on this foreign shore so scientists and laypeople in the Old World could relive part of the journey.

While "Fresh Cut" takes you on a trip into the world of plants, information placards stop short of giving enough detail. And that seems to be the only negative of this exhibit. On top of the many wows and "That looks like a photograph," you'll find yourself wondering about certain plants--where it grows, how big it could get, or what insects are drawn to it?

"Fresh Cut" runs through October 9 in the Weisman Art Museum on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. Admission is free.

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