It's About Blooming Time!
By Anne Ewen, Chief Curator of Art and Heritage
It’s About Blooming Time juxtaposes the lifting of Covid restrictions against the welcome arrival of spring; budding and flourishing friendships alongside the relief felt by Whyte museum staff that our community may finally return to the building. It has been lonely!
Please join us at the Whyte Museum on Friday, April 22nd at 7 p.m. to welcome this new exhibition.
Since 3000BC, when the Lilium candidum (common name Lily) became one of the first known domestic flowers, people have been irresistibly transfixed by nature’s luxuriant abundance of colour, fragrance, and species. Entwined in our lives, flowers flourish in our mythical practices and religious ceremonies. The Greek myth about the Sunflower (Helianthus) tells of the sun god Apollo not returning the affections of the nymph Clyties. Broken-hearted, she transforms into a sunflower ensuring her gaze pursues him forever, thus the flower’s head follows the direction of the sun.
Whereas flowers adorn altars for specific religious ceremonies, they also hold much symbolic meaning. In Hinduism, they are offered to the gods believing that in return the deity will grant good health, wealth, and prosperity. In Buddhism, flowers are highly valued with the Lotus (Nelumbo nucifer) representing a symbol of purity. In both religions, the Lotus represents the path to spiritual awakening and enlightenment. The Passion flower (Passiflora) is used by Christian religions as a reminder of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The White Lily (Lilium candidun), also known as the Easter lily, represents Christ's purity and divinity but is also linked to the modesty and innocence of the Virgin Mary. In Christianity, red roses represent Christ’s blood. In Islam, the powerful scent of the white rose is the bouquet of choice for celebrations.
Throughout history, florals have carried nuanced forms of communication holding significance and sentiment for every occasion. The emotionally repressed Victorian era, applied numerous meanings using White Lilac’s (Syringa vulgaris) to symbolize memories of youth; White Clover (Trifolium repens) meant ‘think of me’. Tulips (Tulipa) first cultivated by the Ottomans were tokens of romantic love that evolved symbolically throughout the centuries. Red came to signify a declaration of love, yellow implied hopeless love, and stripes were offered to acknowledge beautiful eyes.
Comfort and joy, passages of time from birth to death, or a sealed declaration of love or war are moments memorialized by specific selections. Gracefully budding, the aroma, delicacy, and legendary overtones of the Rose (Rosa), Lily and Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum) are perhaps the most popular choices for these occasions.
Certain blooms contain abundant medicinal qualities that heal, relax and relieve. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) has been linked to restored health and happiness. In ancient times, the Orchid root (Orchis family) was ground and used as an aphrodisiac. Indigenous to North America, Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is known as a first aid remedy for wound healing, digestive problems, neurological disorders as well as anxiety and stress. Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata) teas are consumed to relieve sore throats and coughs while the water from the plant is used as an eyewash solution and soother for sunburn and chapping. The smoke from the braided Sweetgrass is thought to attract good spirits and positive energies.
For centuries, artists have used flowers to express the personality and environment of their sitter while their landscapes and still life paintings portray the seasonal and ornamental flora of the time. Through their inspiring and intriguing presence, flowers ultimately helped advance attitudes from strictly scientific identification and medicinal usage to creative pursuits and the adornment of canvases, tapestries, manuscripts, books, and bronzes. Ripe in beauty and rich in interpretation, flowers continue to play a conscious role in our lives where motifs embellish interiors, fixtures, tableware, clothing, accessories, and various art forms.
The exhibition showcases the work of artists, many of whom have exhibited at the Whyte in the past 10 years. Isolated under a blanket of COVID-19 anxiety, we welcome all to re-emerge and join us in celebrating the blossoming of spring and the end of a lengthy isolation. It’s About Blooming Time!
Image 1: Michael Corner. Flowers from Dan II. Oil on panel. 18x24.