Wick­low’s flo­ral artists are in full bloom

RE­PORTER DAVID MED­CALF TOOK A CRASH COURSE IN BOTAN­I­CAL ART FROM THREE OF IRE­LAND’S LEAD­ING PAIN­TERS OF PLANTS, LYNN STRINGER, YANNY PET­TERS AND HOLLY SOMERVILLE – ALL OF WHOM LIVE IN COUNTY WICK­LOW

Bray People - - INTERVIEW -

THEY in­habit the bor­der be­tween art and sci­ence.

They cre­ate ob­jects of beauty by draw­ing on the works of na­ture.

They bring fresh joy to a dis­ci­pline that has brought both un­der­stand­ing and plea­sure for cen­turies.

Meet Wick­low’s flower girls – Holly Somerville, Lynn Stringer and Yanny Pet­ters, three of the coun­try’s lead­ing pain­ters of flow­ers, all liv­ing in the same county. Holly re­sides in the Glen of Imaal, Lynn in Kil­coole and Yanny in En­niskerry. To­gether they bring their pain­ters’ per­spec­tive to Bloom, or­gan­is­ing the an­nual ex­hi­bi­tion of hor­ti­cul­tural art at the coun­try’s big­gest gar­den­ing event in the Phoenix Park.

Holly hails orig­i­nally from Dublin but has resided for the past 13 years in the Glen of Imaal, where she and her fam­ily have taken over a con­verted sawmill.

The work of ren­o­va­tion is never end­ing but the place pro­vides not only ac­com­mo­da­tion but also room for the stu­dio where she paints or runs work­shops to teach oth­ers.

Holly’s art is un­der­pinned by hard­nosed sci­ence as she took a de­gree botany at Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity where, by co­in­ci­dence, she stayed at Somerville Col­lege.

Three of the eight botanists in her class at Ox­ford turned out to be artists, with the Ir­ish woman round­ing off her UK ed­u­ca­tion at Ed­in­burgh Col­lege of Art.

She found the move to Scot­land per­son­ally lib­er­at­ing. Where uni­ver­sity was ‘struc­tured and sci­en­tific’, Ed­in­burgh was sim­ply ‘ to­tally bril­liant’.

Though it may have been stim­u­lat­ing, in­struc­tive and fun, it did not lead di­rectly to a job.

Re­turn­ing from col­lege in 1994, she spent six months sell­ing ad­ver­tis­ing space for the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent be­fore she found a niche more in keep­ing with her tal­ents.

She was re­cruited by the de­part­ment of botany in Trin­ity Col­lege, where she tended the dried spec­i­mens in the herbar­ium and as­sisted grad­u­ate and PhD stu­dents.

She was later re-de­ployed to use her tal­ent as an artist at the Trin­ity botan­i­cal gar­dens in the south­side sub­urb of Darty, where she is be­ing suc­ceeded by Yanny Pet­ters.

The name sig­nals Yanny’s Ger­man back­ground, her par­ents hav­ing ar­rived in Ire­land back in 1951 mov­ing a few years later to put down per­ma­nent roots in En­niskerry.

She is well known in the area as a teacher of art, pass­ing on her skills in the for­mer na­tional school in the vil­lage, while she has a stu­dio a few miles away in New­town­moun­tkennedy but she came to art by a scenic route.

She dropped out of a graph­ics course at one early stage in her ca­reer, in favour of an ap­pren­tice­ship as a sign writer, bright­en­ing up shops and so­lic­i­tor’s of­fices with gold leaf let­ter­ing.

The sign writ­ing drew her from re­ces­sion racked Ire­land to Lon­don in the 1980s.

While in Eng­land she added an­tique restora­tion to her reper­toire be­fore re­turn­ing to County Wex­ford to work at the short lived Model World project in New­town­moun­tkennedy.

‘You have to turn your hand to any­thing,’ muses Yanny on her zig-zag jour­ney through the world of art which brought her fi­nally to mak­ing the images for which she is best known.

‘I al­ways loved plants and I al­ways loved weeds, the things that eke out a liv­ing.’

She ren­ders them on to pa­per through wa­ter­colour but she also dab­bles in ‘verre églomise’, ap­ply­ing paint to glass, ex­am­ples of which are on view to the gen­eral pub­lic at the Wick­low na­tional park cen­tre in Troop­er­stown.

Her par­tic­u­lar spe­cial­ity is bog plants, she con­fides with a laugh: ‘I tend to do a lot of work in the rain and I spend a lot of time on my knees.’

Lynn Stringer hails from Kil­coole and came late to the world of wa­ter­colours, en­rolling in the fine arts course at the Dublin In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy at the age of 29 on the road to turn­ing a hobby into a pro­fes­sion.

‘I al­ways felt that I had missed out not go­ing to col­lege,’ she says of mak­ing the break af­ter years of of­fice work, ‘and it al­ways came back to art.’

The con­tent of the course at DIT was a mixed bless­ing for one called to re­al­ism, where much of the cur­ricu­lum trained its blurry fo­cus on ab­stract pieces and in­stal­la­tions.

Then Lynn took part in a work­shop given by plant il­lus­tra­tor Su­san Sex and her die was cast: ‘I fell in love with the whole botan­i­cal thing fifteen years ago and I am do­ing it ever since.’

Holly’s mother Kather­ine Nixon is a well­known painter and sculp­tor, while Yanny’s mother was an artist.

In Lynn’s case, how­ever, the in­spi­ra­tion from the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion came through the gar­den and the fam­ily’s sheer love of plants.

She still grows veg­eta­bles and flow­ers, which she sells at the com­mu­nity mar­ket at New­cas­tle each Satur­day along with beau­ti­ful prints of the images cre­ated from her art work.

SHE re­calls how she be­gan to make the crit­ics sit up and take no­tice of her tal­ent with a solo show in Dun­drum in 2007 be­fore head­ing off to the US and a year-long res­i­dency in Ver­mont, which was a great ex­pe­ri­ence.

She later sub­mit­ted six paint­ings to the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety’s ex­hi­bi­tion at the Lind­ley Library in West­min­ster in 2013 and re­turned from Lon­don with the sil­ver medal, which con­firmed her rep­u­ta­tion.

The botan­i­cal art prac­tised by the Wick­low trio draws on a tra­di­tion which is many cen­turies old, as Yanny points out.

De­tailed draw­ings and paint­ings of plants were es­sen­tial in days gone by for the trans­mis­sion of knowl­edge.

The work of artists as­sisted in iden­ti­fy­ing plants which were use­ful in medicine and cook­ery, while mak­ing sure that the poi­sonous ones were avoided.

Though mod­ern prac­ti­tion­ers of­ten use cam­eras to as­sist them, these three women are adamant that a good paint­ing is more valu­able than any pho­to­graphic im­age.

‘Paint­ings show more of a plant than you see in a photo,’ says Yanny. ‘Yes, there is a place for pho­tog­ra­phy but a paint­ing is much more use­ful.’

What can be cap­tured with one click of the but­ton on the cam­era can never catch the sort of de­tail cre­ated by the skilled artist who spends 50 to 60 hours. ‘And peo­ple like the paint­ings!’ chips in Lynn. Per­haps the value of the brush­stroke is en­hanced be­cause the artists sim­ply en­joy what they are do­ing and the plea­sure is some­how re­flected in their wa­ter­colours. And the joy which peo­ple ob­tain from their work is one which oth­ers seek to em­u­late, with Holly, Yanny and Lynn all in de­mand as art tu­tors. ‘There is a part of you that needs to go out and meet peo­ple,’ pon­ders Holly. The quest for like-minded com­pany is ful­filled in part by the Ir­ish So­ci­ety of Botan­i­cal Artists in which they are lead­ing lights. The so­ci­ety has a mix of pro­fes­sional and am­a­teur mem­bers, around 140 of them in all. The trio are also heav­ily in­volved in Bloom, the hugely suc­cess­ful and pop­u­lar an­nual gar­den­ing event in the Phoenix Park. While most of the ac­tion in the park re­volves around liv­ing plants and the hard­ware as­so­ci­ated with gar­dens but they have proven that there is a place for art on the pro­gramme. Four years ago, Lynn ap­proached Bloom boss Gary Gra­ham and per­suaded him that an ex­hi­bi­tion of paint­ings would not only be rel­e­vant but would also be a crowd pleaser. As a re­sult of her ini­tia­tive, the fourth show in the se­ries open this Thurs­day, June 2 with 56 works se­lected for dis­play at Bloom, in­clud­ing con­tri­bu­tions from Holly (a rose), Lynn (a mag­no­lia) and Yanny (sycamore seeds and rose hips). By the way, Yanny is plan­ning to present an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Olivier Cor­net gallery in Dublin in Oc­to­ber. And watch out too for an ex­hi­bi­tion due to take place at the end of this year of il­lus­tra­tions of Ir­ish gar­den plants, the re­sult of more than a decade of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween grow­ers and the artists. Such fine work can­not be rushed.

Yanny Pet­ters, Holly Somerville and Lynn Stringer at Yanny’s stu­dios in New­town­moun­tkennedy.

Yanny’s rose­hip, left, Lynn’s rhodod­hen­dron, cen­tre, and Holly’s WB Yeats rose, right.

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