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Andrew Thornton: "Strange Botany #10"

Image of Andrew Thornton: "Strange Botany #10"


Painting on Wood.

4" x 6"

In the land of my mother's youth, one did not cut down a tree without first asking permission.  Spirits lived in the wood and everything had secret voice.  It was bad luck to take, if it was not given. She told us cautionary tales of those who stole from the green world and the misfortune that followed them.  Half a world away and many years later, my mother could be found in her garden under the Florida sun, singing to her garden and plying the plants with words of encouragement.  Sometimes she would talk to the plants in her mother tongue, a mystery to us children.  Try as we might, our Westernized mouths could not form the syllables of the few words she tried to teach us.  Once a neighbor child overheard her and asked if she was casting spells.  At the time, we refused this notion flat-out.  We didn't want to be different or have another reason to be excluded.  But now, I'm not so sure.  The spell she wove with her sing-song language was one that asked her children to be fed and her homesick heart to be healed.  She sang a song to ask for forgiveness, for leaving her family behind, and to ask the flowers and the leaves to keep a searching eye for a son that was lost, who she never got to say goodbye to.

My father's mother was a daughter of Ozarks.  She grew up close to the land and had a log cabin with a dirt floor. They picked cotton and sold watermelons and boiled peanuts next to the road.  She too talked to the trees and would tell the bees of a loved one's passing.  She knew that when you heard the first fall crickets chirping, winter was six weeks away.  Grandma always knew when it would rain.  

When we were young, my siblings and I would play a game.  We would ask awkward questions full of feigned innocence and watch the chosen adult squirm.  Grandma was a particular target because she had the best reactions.  Her eyes would get all big and round and she'd raise up with the indignation of any good church-going Southern lady and deliver a response full of fluster and amusing sayings.  On a walk through the woods, we decided to help pass the time with a round of a game like this.  After bombarding her with question after question, we finally asked, "Where do babies come from?"  Caught off guard and not knowing what we knew, she pointed to a burl on a tree and said, "Well... hun... babies come from there!"  We shrieked with delight.  Even though we knew where babies came from, the image stuck.  After all, we had been raised with stories of tree spirits and faces in the leaves.

We fed our imaginations with fairytales, folklore, and mythology.  I was drawn to stories like the one about Daphne escaping Apollo by turning into a laurel tree and how the shrieks of a mandrake can kill a man.  It seemed like every plant had a secret history and a story to tell.  I think that's one of the things that sparked my interest in botanical studies.  I am a novice, for sure, but ever-eager to learn more.  As my curiosity grew, I started to see the woods differently.  Instead of seeing a wall of greenery, I started to look closer.  That's when you discover the amazing diversity that makes up the natural world.  You start to see an awe-inspiring array of shapes, colors, and textures.  

All these things combined to form the inspiration for these pieces and a starting point for their development.  They tap into my childhood and explore an imaginary landscape.  Through my work, I have given these plant inspirations personalities and attributes, personifying them and creating a whimsical world of wonder.