Sunday 10 October 2010

Posted by Mali

Our project trip is called: Beckler's Botanical Bounty - The Flora of Menindee; 150th commemorative collection.

We are a group of 10 botanical artists from Melbourne and Bendigo and included in our group were 2 botanists.

The inspiration for the trip came about thru the 150th celebration of the Burke & Wills Expedition. It was originally suggested by Dr. Beverly Woods, who attends my botanical art class at Royal Botanic Gardens Melb, to go to Menindee to paint the wildflowers.
As I am a scientific illustrator I searched for scientific relevance and decided to research the roll of Dr.Hermann Beckler on the B&W trip. He was the medical doctor and botanical collector for the expedition. When the party split Dr.Beckler stayed on in Menindee for 3 months making many collections. The National Herbarium have on their record that he collected 120 taxa.
As we were collecting for our paintings I then thought that we could also collect for the National Herbarium Melb and at the same time forward a duplicate voucher to NSW Herbarium.

Our aim was to collect the same species of plants that Beckler collected in the same location. As botanical artists we proceeded to paint/illustrate some of the species we found.
As the fields were in spectacular bloom it was a challenge for us to choose which one we wanted to paint, and which ones were the same as Beckler's list.
We stopped at one site and noticed large patches of blue haze, this turned out to be hundreds of Wahlenbergia, the native bluebell ! We were hooked and there we stayed for 3 hours discovering more and more, the more we looked the more we found. Many daisies, salt bushes and blue bushes in full splendid colour.

We spent 5 days in Menindee, 2 days searching, collecting and identifying, 3 days painting and illustrating.
We found 15 plants we are now painting. Out of a list of 120 we plan to return next Oct to continue the project.

Collecting plants for scientific research is of course very important. Illustration is a valuable tool in this research in particular as we painted these plants while they were fresh with colour.
Botanical art is very detailed and very accurate for the purpose of scientific identification. It also invokes awareness and educates the general public to the importance of science and research thru its sheer beauty.
"artists make science visible" I have lived by this philosophy for nearly 20 years now. Without artists and art the world would be a much darker and duller place.

From my understanding Becker made only a few botanical illustrations on the B&W expedition, he made many sketches of the landscape and of natural history subjects like snakes and birds. The landscapes and animals were less able to be preserved and illustrated later, where as the plants were pressed and dried for future rendering. I imagine that Becker would have planned to draw the plants up into full botanical illustrations upon his return to Melbourne Herbarium. Becker died at Bulloo in 1861 (?) and so the plants were not illusrated by Becker (I will check if plants were illustrated by others)

It is our vision to fill in some of the gaps by illustrating the plants on Beckler's list. The importance of this project is immense. 
We aim to put our work on exhibition sometime in the future.

.......... Mali

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