Right before the world locked down as an attempt to stop the spread of a mysterious virus in the spring of 2020, I had gone on an epic trip to Machu Picchu, the amazing Incan citadel set high in the Peruvian Andes Mountains. It was the fall of 2019, and I was blissfully unaware that this would be my last travel adventure for a good long while. After being home for what felt like forever, I needed to make some art with a new focus beyond my dwindling travel photos.
I found myself virtually wandering about in digital library stacks and came upon different herbarium collections. These are plant specimens, collected in the wild by scientific explorers to use later for further study. After collecting, the plants are pressed flat. Once dry and flat, they are arranged on a page with the aim of showing all the important plant parts -- roots, stem, leaves, seeds, flowers -- anything that helps define that plant. I was drawn to these as I had actually done this as a volunteer for a time at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which is close to my home.
Much as I had done in long ago real volunteer life, I gathered many different virtual specimen files of this maidenhair fern. Then I digitally took them all back apart and rearranged a bit from this one, a bit from that one into a pleasing new composition. I was drawn specifically to this plant as it held such a vibrant memory of that journey to Machu Picchu.
The last twenty minute bus ride to Machu Picchu's entrance was up a series of tight roadway switch-backs leading us up an impossibly steep mountainside. At the tightest point of each hairpin turn, we faced into the cliff-face where water trickled from the mountain above. And on the ground, just past the pavement, it was alive with dense plant life. Over and over during this short drive and many hairpins, I saw maidenhair ferns thriving amongst the foliage. I thought back to this experience as worked with my composition. It took me right back to that bus ride and I realized that I was building a travel memories from these dried library twigs. This was my first exploration of creating my art without my trusty photos. It drove me out of my comfort zone, but I am grateful now that it did and I feel freer for it.
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