From the Lovely and Amazing series, this limited edition book uses images, artifacts and writings from the archive of my great aunt, Ruth Wheeler. Ruth led a rich and varied life, passionate about both nature and teaching (she was a biologist with a teaching certificate). She had a big impact on how my views of the world were shaped. Creating my own works from that which she left me has brought me moments of joy and a bit of sadness too.
The general parameters of Wildflower Identification were partially set using the Ideation Deck (developed by Julie Chen and Barb Tetenbaum).
Based on Hedi Kyle’s Blizzard Book (so called because Hedi developed the folded paper structure when a blizzard in Philadelphia kept her studio bound for a day), Wildflower Identification has 14 envelope pages created from one long sheet of Batik paper (imported from India).
I chose to work with this structure for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is my wish to present material non-linearly, allowing pages be removed and re-arranged. The content of the pages peeks out from that which contains them, reminiscent of plants peeking out, enticing a closer look. More obscurely, I chose this structure because it was developed by Hedi Kyle. I’m convinced that Hedi and Ruth would have enjoyed one another’s company had they ever met. Both have been role models for me. I am inspired by their excitement, curiosity and passion about their worlds, their lifelong willingness to share, educate and support those of us fortunate enough to have spent time with them.
The contents of the envelopes are cards, photographs or seed specimens adapted from Ruth’s archive. The three photographs are of teenage girls out on a seed and plant gathering adventure (taken on November 13, 1948), scanned, cropped and re-printed.
The cards duplicate Ruth’s handwriting and are taken from her many teaching files – these specific to teaching ‘her girls’ about plant identification and cultivation.
Each book also contains three laminated seed and flower collections
and an original page from Chester A. Reed’s Flower Guide published in 1916, also laminated.
These, along with a title card (colophon on reverse) make up the contents of the book.
Some of the joys of designing and creating this book include time spent going through Ruth’s collections of photographs and writings, teaching my studio assistant Stefanie how to fold the pages (this is now one of her favorite activities and she has her own project in development utilizing the Blizzard Book), working with a rich, purple Nigerian goat (from Harmatan), a luscious and tactilely rewarding material, and making pastepaper for the project while listening to Western Bird Calls.
Note: several years ago, Lucinda Carr (invited me to her studio for a day of pastepaper production. Lucinda was producing and selling some fabulous paste papers and I was eager to learn her work methods. We set up and when it was time to go to work she said “This is my secret for making great paste papers – I listen to bird call identification recordings while I work”.
As I’ve worked with these materials, I’ve had not unpleasant moments of wistful sadness (sentimental nostalgia?). Some of this is related to missing Ruth but there is something else this material stirs up I me.
I’ve developed quite an attachment, crushes of a sort, to these girls (a few of whom are pictured again and again, on other outdoor, educational adventures, in Ruth’s photo albums), my emotional response based solely on impressions of who they may have been, these girls who so appreciated nature, whose curiosity and willingness to explore was endlessly nurtured by Ruth. I feel envious sometimes that I wasn’t one of “Ruthie’s girls” – many of them remained lifelong friends of Ruth’s and went on to nurture other young women throughout their own lives.
As I ruminate on the adventures Ruth’s archives document I feel a yearning to connect to my younger, more able-bodied, less educated self. I long to experience once again lovely stretches of time when activities such as of going out, alone or with others, to identify wildflowers the only mission aside from eating a picnic lunch in a wooded grove, perhaps near a running stream.
An archive of process materials is housed at University of Denver, Penrose Library, Special Collections.
Wildflower Identification is out of print.