Art From the Edge of the Boreal Forest: Reflecting Biodiversity

For the past 10 years, a group of traditionally trained botanical artists has explored the effects of a warming climate on the iconic boreal forest in northern Minnesota.

Working with climatologists, naturalists and other specialists, they have identified 10 trees that are most vulnerable to climate change.

This exhibit features dozens of works that focus on specific aspects of each of the 10 trees. Those trees include the balsam poplar, balsam fir, black spruce, white spruce, jack pine, red pine, paper birch, quaking aspen, black ash and tamarack. 

​The centuries-old tradition of botanical art blends scientific observation with artistic rendering. 

Focusing on painstaking accuracy and aesthetic composition, botanical art provides a unique view of the natural world.

Julie Martinez, Black Spruce Trees (Picea Mariana), gouache and colored pencil Mary Anne O'Malley, Tamarack Tree (Larix laricina), watercolor and graphite Julie Martinez, Black Spruce Study (Picea Mariana), gouache and colored pencil Julie Martinez, Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea), watercolor and colored pencil Vicki Barth, Balsam Poplar Branch (Populus balsamifera), colored pencil Vicki Barth, Quaking Aspen Bark (Populus tremuloides), graphite Mary Anne O'Malley, “The Intertwining,” Black Ash Branch in Summer (Fraxinus nigra), watercolor, graphite, pen and ink Wendy Brockman, Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra), graphite and colored pencil Wendy Brockman, White Spruce Branch & Cones (Picea glauca), watercolor on vellum Wendy Brockman, Northwoods Solitude (Boreal Warbler Nest in White Spruce Branch), watercolor on vellum Bob Carls, Silver Maple Sushi Plates (Acer saccharinum L.), turned wood Bob Carls, Cottonwood Jar with Lid (Populus deltoides), turned wood Bob Carls, Banded Curly Birch Bowl with Red Oak Detail (Betula papyrifera and Quercus rubra), turned, segmented and laminated wood Debra Greenblatt, Red Pine, New Growth (Pinus resinosa), watercolor and graphite Debra Greenblatt, Red Pine Cone and Needles (Pinus resinosa), watercolor, graphite, and colored pencil Kathleen Franzen, Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), scratchboard Kathleen Franzen, Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides), watercolor Kathleen Franzen, Two Spot Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus jamaicensis), watercolor Mary Anne O’Malley, White-spotted Sawyer (Monochamus scutellatus), watercolor on vellum Mary Anne O'Malley, Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis), watercolor and graphite on vellum Bruce A. Wilson, Bearded Lichen on Balsam Fir Branch (Usnea sp. on Abies balsamea), graphite Bruce A. Wilson, Autumn Leaves on Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea), pastel, pen, and ink Bruce A. Wilson, Balsam Fir #1 (Abies balsamea), pastel, pen, and ink Previous Next

Contemporary botanical art begins with a careful study of plants. The subject is accurately sketched seeking both botanical details and a pleasing composition. These studies are used to create an artistic representation with exacting precision, so the genus and species are clear. The subject is drawn against a blank backdrop to emphasize its unique beauty and eliminate the visual stimulation found in nature. The artist’s technical expertise creates the most stunning botanical art using basic mediums of graphite, watercolor, colored pencil, or pen and ink.

Learn about the artists

Vicki Barth

Vicki Barth is an artist and teacher living and working in Minneapolis. All of the many aspects of trees including leaves, bark, twigs and buds are the subject of her work that comes from closely studying the smallest of details. Vicki works primarily in colored pencil and graphite.

Wendy Brockman

Wendy Brockman lives and works in Edina Minnesota. The primary focus of her art is the interpretation of environmental transience, often using the structure and complexity of nature to examine issues of time and place. Largely self-educated, Brockman works in watercolor, graphite, and mixed media. Well known for her botanical paintings, plants are a recurring theme in her thoughtfully observed work.

Bob Carls

Bob Carls’ work focuses on function or implied function, acknowledging the history of the vessel. He strives for continuity, historical context and a high level of workmanship as he makes his bowls, jars, vases and vessels. He brings to his work a lifetime of study in art forms that range from improvisational music to the visual arts, especially photography, sculpture and film.

Marj Davis

Marj Davis is a botanical artist who works mainly in watercolor, painting native prairie plants found in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The beautiful colors and intricate, complex patterns and forms found in nature inspire her work. Her art connects her to nature and she is dedicated to the protection and preservation of natural areas.

Kathy Franzen

Kathy Franzen lives in Minneapolis overlooking the beautiful trees of the Mississippi River Valley. For several years, she has sketched trees in India, Eastern Tibet, Southern China, and other parts of the world. Her botanical study of trees has led to a widening perception of the world: The strength and grandeur of trees in contrast with their environmental vulnerability.

Nancy Gehrig

Nancy Gehrig grew up in a small Wisconsin town, exploring the surrounding woods, ponds and fields. She has a special interest in Minnesota’s native coniferous trees. In studying each species and its characteristics, not only has she learned about the specific environments of each but also the flora and fauna that inhabit their surroundings. It has been particularly thrilling for her to visit old growth stands of these beautiful trees.

Debra Greenblatt

Debra Greenblatt lives and works in Minneapolis. She draws and paints botanical subjects using pen and ink, watercolor, graphite, colored pencil, and carbon dust. She uses botanical art as a vehicle to help people gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

Julie Martinez

Julie Martinez is a natural science illustrator living in south Minneapolis. She has worked with the scientific community for 25 years creating accurate illustrations of plants and animals in a variety of media for education, publication and exhibitions, and her work has been widely published. Her goal is to portray the beauty, diversity and fragility of the natural world.

Mary Anne O'Malley

Mary Anne O'Malley portrays the natural world through watercolor and graphite. Many years of working in museum fabrication has furthered her interest in the interdependence of plant and animal life. She is a local artist who hopes to inspire others to appreciate the natural world. She exhibits locally and nationally and teaches the art of botanical painting.

Kathleen Reeves

Kathleen Reeves lives and works in Watertown, Minnesota. As an avid gardener and lover of nature, she was inspired to take up botanical painting. The challenge of accurately depicting a plant and finding its character inspires her to seek out and observe plants in their natural places. She primarily works in watercolor, colored pencil and graphite.

Bruce Wilson

Bruce Wilson lives in Minnetonka and is an instructor with the Minnesota School of Botanical Art and at Filoli Education Center in Woodside, California. Working primarily in watercolor, graphite, pastel, and ink, he enjoys observing the fleeting moments of nature hidden in plain view.

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