Local artists distill sea’s hidden beauty
Art inspired by seaweed? It’s called “macroalgae,” a wonderful subject to a group of artists in South Florida who have illustrated in great detail the large aquatic, photosynthetic plants that can been seen without the aid of a microscope.
The Tropical Botanic Artists, a collective of 16 artists based in Miami, have produced an acclaimed exhibition, “Macroalgae: Hidden Colors of the Sea,” at Everglades National Park’s Coe Visitor Center Gallery from Jan. 2-31. The exhibit moved to the Coe Gallery after being at Biscayne National Park’s Dante Fascell Visitor Center Sept. 16-Nov. 27.
Susan Cumins of Coral Gables says the artists first met in a botanical art class taught by Donna Torres; they discovered their common love of plants and went on to establish the group in 2006. Members are diverse in ethnicity and in age, from their mid-20s to late 80s.
“We don’t paint to gain money,” she said. “We paint because it makes us happy, and I think that’s why our art and group is so special.”
Cumins’ interest in art is far from new. Although she specializes in marketing and public relations, she earned her master of fine arts at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and later enhanced her art studies in Venice.
“When I was a young girl, I used to take flower petals and rub them against the pavement to compare all of their different pigments,” she said.
The artists most often paint plants in their back yards, but that practice changed dramatically for the macroalgae project, a perfect blend of science and art.
Biologists sponsored by the National Geographic Society harvested specimens from Biscayne Bay in May 2010 in a special project called BioBlitz 2010. The artists based their drawings on the specimens, and now the exhibit features about 30 botanical watercolors along with three herbarium display frames representing three categories of local macroalgae – green, red and brown.
“It’s a different type of art because it shows the minute details of marine plants that are largely unnoticed and unknown,” explained Cumins, whose watercolor, "Avrainvillea Species," appears on the invitation to the current exhibit at Everglades National Park.
The detail in the paintings is striking: Each is 12-by-9 inches; the plants can only be measured in millimeters. The artists used special magnifying glasses and thin brushes to perfectly entail the plants’ complex structures.
Each piece took days to complete, Cumins said. Artists first sketched the anatomy by pencil and then enhanced it with distinct color pigmentations to accurately represent the modeling algae.
“We will continue to paint for as long as we possibly can,” said Cumins. “It’s our way of expressing ourselves.”
From Everglades National Park, “Macroalgae: Hidden Colors of the Sea” will move to the NOAA’s Florida Keys EcoDiscovery Center in Key West in February; the Tropical Audubon Society’s Doc Thomas House in South Miami in March; and Hollywood’s Ann Kolb Nature Center in April.
For more information, visit www.tropicalbotanicartists.com.
Eugenia Romero is from Venezuela and a junior majoring in public relations and international studies at the University of Miami.