Sunday, May 20, 2012


Black Twig

In 1988 I went to Paw Paw, Michigan to spend the afternoon with my friend Judy Sarkozy while drawing an apple orchard in bloom. The owner of the orchard, Wanda Miller, packed us a perfect lunch to eat in the field. The weather and conversation were exceptional. That day inspired a project that continued for more than 20 years.

It is, perhaps, my own form of taxonomy that prompts me to seek out as many varieties of things as I can find - a sort of visual science. I searched for and drew all of the pansies that I could find in the space of one summer and all of the forms of poppies during another summer. The apples, however, were my longest and deepest search.

It started in a very haphazard way. When I saw a new apple I would buy it and draw it any way I pleased. There was no continuity in how I approached the subject matter or the paper I drew it on - its variety, size or weight. When I finished the drawing it just went to a heap of other apple drawings.

The apple season starts in Michigan in August and the farmers' markets continue to get different varieties into November. The supermarkets often continue to get exotic apples throughout the winter. I kept finding new ones for about 5 years and then got distracted. The pile of apples got put on a closet shelf in my studio. Two years ago I moved my base of operations and found all 73 where I had abandoned them. At that point I knew there was going to be an Herbarium and the collection might be interesting to add to that project. I cut the drawings to the same size and a uniform format for the look of the apple itself was established. Nice drawings that had unsuitable backgrounds or were drawn on smaller sheets were cut out and mounted onto the new, standard size backing.

It seemed right to increase the number of varieties to 100.

The final apple was found by Megan Parry near her home in the southern tier of New York state - a wonderful antique variety called a 20 ounce.  The ceramic snake, pictured on top of drawings, was also made by Megan.
It is tempting to continue drawing new apples but since I have expanded to plums and peaches and pears and potatoes there is plenty to do without looking for the 101st variety.

I am hoping to get started, however, on information about apples. This could take the form of a notebook or printed text and photos on the interleaving between my drawings. The pleasure of this cabinet project is that there will always be something new and interesting to do.

Black Arkansas

Sunday, May 13, 2012


"I long for the woods. - The woods! - I often wonder what I am, naturalist or artist, for the pursuit of one hinders the other - I seem always to be deciding which it shall be - Of course it must be an artist, for it [i.e., I] must live, but I am hoping for a day when I can give myself entirely up to Nature."
Charles Burchfield (October 8, 1913)

Since early Roman times human faces have been depicted either made up of leaves or decorated with leaves. Since there is no recorded explanation for this we are left to decide for ourselves what it means. Often vines and leaves are shown growing out of mouths and eye sockets. Some people take this to represent rebirth or renaissance - a sort of cheery interpretation. It seems more likely to me that it is addressing the less comfortable concept of death and the return of the body to nature. In Medieval cathedrals "Green Men" appear regularly in different capacities from charming and decorative to ominous and frightening. They are demons and jolly tricksters. They are always intriguing.

The first green person in my botanical collection is a portrait of my father, Anthony Eugene Eufinger. He appears as a tete de feuilles or foliate head. Such heads are traditionally seen to be either decorated with leaves or peeking out from the woods. I like to think of him as remaining with me even if he is beyond my reach. He is still "in nature", among the leaves. He continues teaching me with the examples he set when he was alive and he is perhaps watching over me as I finish my life.

My own self portrait was inspired by a photograph of an ancient face carved out of rock and covered with moss. I know no details about this image but its serenity has always impressed me deeply. Life can be noisy, filled with work to do, days to manage, people to deal with. I am not complaining as I have work that interests me, a remarkable family and inspiring friends, but the concept of stepping back and blending into nature can also be very tempting.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Of Wasps:
Although they feed not on raw flesh only and ripe Apples, but upon Pears, Grapes, Flowers, and sundry sorts of fruits; also on the sap of Elms, Sugar, Honey, and almost whatever. They feed on the flesh of Serpents, and then they sting mortally.

T. Muffet, The Theater of Insects (1658)

The drawing hanging above the Herbarium coordinates not only with the face of the cabinet which is devoted to fruit, but also with the drawing hanging over the darker, twin Sky cabinet. Both have a dominant circular feature and phases of the moon. In this case the circle is a plate or charger for a bowl of apricots and the phases of the moon refer to theories of appropriate planting times. A Polyphemus moth is the single representative of an insect group other than wasps.

While bees are covered with hairs that help collect and carry pollen, wasps have relatively slick bodies. Nonetheless, wasps are incidental pollinators for many plants and specialist pollinators for other plants, such as  figs. In addition to pollinating edibles, wasps deserve their place at the table of fruit also because they are essential in their role of keeping in check insects that are harmful. Solitary wasps parasitize a vast variety of insects that are harmful to crops.

A small minority of wasps are aggressive and able to sting.

I chose to depict a table set with fruit and added a variety of wasps because they are so very beautiful - colorful and with such distinctive and interesting body shapes. I have probably done them no service in the long run as people are sometimes bothered by yellow jackets when eating out of doors and this might just bring back memories of bad experiences.

Once, while I tried to cook dinner for biologists working in the field in Idaho hundreds of hornets joined me. I was not stung. They were interested in eating what I was preparing but it was frightening to be surrounded by them. A person who was from the area helped me out by setting up a large bowl of water with a little liquid detergent and two big sausages suspended above. The wasps ate almost half of the sausages but many died in the attempt by landing in the water. I was not happy about their demise but it was a case of self protection and getting dinner on the table.

My grandmother Borchert's beautiful white porcelain cup with the gold rim holds a plum. Her mother's Art Nouveau cocoa cup holds champagne grapes. A ceramic cup by Chris Jackman of Royal Oak, Michigan,  in between the two holds a fig.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


FLOW'ER, n. s.. [fleur, French;  flos, flores, Latin.]
1. The part of the plant that contains the seeds.
If the blossom of the plant be of the most importance, we call it a flower; such are daisies, tulips and carnations.
Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language (1755)

The drawing on the inside of the bottom door of the Herbarium honors flowers.  It echoes the feeling of the drawing of vegetables above it, but instead of punctuating the composition with pop art dots there is a shower of white petals from an apple tree drifting down. Another echo is the dark central feature.  This time it is a solitary black/purple parrot tulip. 
This year the weather was mystifying.   Early spring flowers began to bloom during a very warm March and continued to bloom for an extended period when the weather cooled off just enough to maintain them.  New plants kept blossoming while the early ones remained.  It is the first year I can remember the forsythia and the dogwood blooming together.   The world has been a fairyland of pink and white and yellow.
It may be beauty with a price as there is talk of no buds on the grape vines in the western part of the state.  The cherry crop always seems to be on the edge of disaster so that would be nothing too new.  I have not seen many pollinators out there doing their work. On the other hand, Larry, the egg man at the Eastern Market, says there was not a deep enough freeze this year to kill many of the harmful insects sleeping in the soil.
Who knows at this point whether my drawing, which has no respect for seasons, might turn out to be a bouquet that could actually be picked in one day? Everything pictured is from last year's garden which bloomed in a more normal progression.