Maria Cecilia Freeman's Story Behind the Art

 
How did you go about selecting a subject for the Bartram exhibition?
 
Actually, I had already decided I wanted to paint Rosa laevigata, and I was excited to see that it was on the list. What first caught my eye about Rosa laevigata was the prickly orange hips. I had collected a few ripe hips at Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Northern California in January, so I began by drawing those and capturing color in watercolors.
 
In the spring, I was in Jacksonville, Florida to teach a class on painting roses. I found that Rosa laevigata is a popular garden rose there, so I took a couple of days extra to draw, do watercolor sketches to get the color right, and take reference photos. 
 
Later I was delighted to find a plant of this rose in the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden. I got permission to clip and take home one of the last flowering cane tips of the season, so I was able to complete my painting with accurate colors.
 
Why did you choose this specific subject to portray?
 
First of all, when I saw those hips I immediately wanted to paint them.
 
I've long had an interest in documenting species roses in art. I wanted to paint Rosa laevigata, the Cherokee Rose, because it's beautiful, and has historical significance (hence its name). It was introduced to the U.S. from China in the mid-18th century and has become naturalized as a wild rose in the southeastern U.S.
 
William Bartram probably encountered this rose during his exploration of the Cherokee Nation, where it was widely cultivated and shared. Legend connects this rose with the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of Native Americans in that region beginning in 1838: the white petals are said to represent the mothers' tears, and the large golden center the gold taken from the Cherokee tribe. In 1916 it was named the State Flower of Georgia.
 
How would you describe the artwork so that someone who hasn't seen it could visualize it?
 
The large bristly hips reach upward into the sunlight on a long, prickly cane. We see them as if we are on the ground looking upward. The lanceolate leaves spring out in different directions, reflecting the vigorous growth habit of this rose, whose canes will climb into trees. Only the newer leaves have stipules, which later fall off. 
 
A smaller cane with flowers floating along it is in the foreground. The single white flowers, with large centers of yellow stamens, open cup-shaped to almost flat. The leaflets on the flowering cane are smaller and darker than they will be later. Dense prickles are visible on the petioles and green receptacles. 
 
Is there anything you'd like to comment on about the color, composition, media or technique you used in the work?
 
The composition in this painting is not typical of rose portraits, because I wanted to give prominence to the striking hips at least as much as the flowers. The flowers and hips appear at different times of the year, so I had to portray two different canes. That made for a more challenging composition than a single branch. I was pleased that the positioning of the hips reaching upward, as they really do, gives a sense of energy and movement to the picture. 
 
Because I worked from samples at different times of year in different locations, this composition is a compilation of separate drawings on tracing paper, assembled in a true-to-life manner and transferred to a sheet of 140-lb Strathmore 500 Bristol Vellum, which I like to use when I want to achieve velvety textures. The original is 20"x14", which is unusually large for me. 
 
How does this piece relate to your body of work?
 
I've been painting roses in watercolor and documenting their botanical details in graphite drawings since 2005, I have a body of work I call "Rose Studies," consisting of watercolor portraits paired with graphite drawings of botanical details. (This collection can be seen on my website, mcf-art.com.) I'll complete the study in graphite of Rosa laevigata to go with this watercolor and continue my "Rose Studies."
 
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  • (C) Mary Cecilia Freeman