Beverly Duncan's Story Behind the Art

Bartram's Seeds
Bartram's Seedlings
After visiting the Bartram Homestead a number of years ago, I became intrigued by the story of America’s first botanists and plants men. I read the biography of John Bartram, The Life and Travels of John Bartram, and also The Travels of William Bartram. As I read, I became even more impressed with the energy of this father and son, of their deep interest in the natural world around them, and with their journals that recorded their travel observations. I was also impressed with their business arrangements with wealthy Europeans, developing a lively exportation of seeds, plants, and many other natural specimens of the eastern Americas. 
“His (John Bartram’s) seed business had increased immensely over the last fifteen years and had become a brisk commercial enterprise. The trees and shrubs that he had moved to his plantation as seed sources greatly facilitated the procuring of large quantities. Standardization of the five-guinea box made packing simpler and speedier. The largest number of boxes shipped in one year of which a record has been found was twenty-nine in 1752.” (Berkeley, Edmund & Dorothy, The Life and Travels of John Bartram) 
I found in the reading that the Bartrams sent crate-loads of seeds and live plants to Europe for wealthy collectors. I was impressed with the success of the business and the quantity of material sent. More important, though, I was delighted to be reading in the records of both father and son of the abundance once found in the wilds at the end of the 18th century. 
Reading about the lives of the John and William Bartram inspired both paintings accepted for this exhibition. The “Bartrams’ Seeds” painting is a nod to the thriving Bartram seed business. Over the years I have painted seeds, native and non native, that were found in rural in western Massachusetts where I live. Painting only native seeds that were collected by the Bartrams controlled the selection. 
I hope that viewers will notice the variety and beauty of seed shapes and sizes; the seeds hover in space so that comparisons can easily be made.
The plant nursery that John developed at the Pennsylvania farm inspired the second painting, “Bartrams’ Seedlings #2”.  In the spring of 2012, as I was contemplating what to paint for this exhibition, I found a number of butternuts (hickories) sprouting in many unlikely spots in my gardens. The local squirrels had buried a number of these nuts from a neighbor’s butternut tree the autumn before. Finding the first young butternut seedling persuaded me to develop the seedling series. Once I began the process of searching for other seedlings, my eye became more sensitive to new growth, plants I might have overlooked in the past. At times it really felt like a treasure hunt, and I was rewarded time and again! 
I hope that viewers will note the differences in the seedlings, each representative of its species. Some of the seedlings had seeds still attached when I dug up the plant; others didn’t. While each species had definite identification characteristics that differentiate one from another, they all shared one common characteristic, the vertical root, which unites them visually on the page.
Each new seedling found during the spring and early summer of 2012 was carefully dug up and placed in a pot. About 15 potted seedlings sat under an apple tree in my backyard.  When it was time to paint a seedling, I carefully shook the soil from the roots, washed them, and kept them moist at all times in either a jar of water or on a moist paper towel. Once painted, the seedling was repotted and placed outside under the apple tree. At the end of the 2012 growing season, I dug in all the pots at the back of one of the vegetable plots. This next spring, 2013, I look forward to witnessing new growth as the seedlings prosper a second year. 
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  • Bartram Seeds (C) Beverly Duncan
  • Bartram Seedlings (C) Beverly Duncan