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Sculpture Blooms in Botanic Garden

Most visitors to the Botanic Garden expect to see a variety of plants, flowers and other living greenery. But with its new exhibit, the garden is broadening its horizons to sculptures made of everything from iron and ceramic to wood and glass.

“Flora: Growing Inspirations” seeks to “explore the line between art and garden ornamentation,” said Holly Shimizu, Botanic Garden executive director. “All of the work is provocative. All of the work makes you think in new ways.”

Nick Nelson, landscape architect for the gardens, said, “Plants are our usual medium, but here we’ve combined plant form with sculpture.” Indeed, although most of the sculpture is made of non-organic material, all the pieces have clear ties to the natural world and show how the artists were inspired by nature in creating their pieces.

In conjunction with the Washington Sculptors Group, a panel of five judges from the Botanic Garden and local arts programs chose 30 pieces by artists from the United States and Zimbabwe to be shown predominantly in the East Gallery as well as in outdoor garden rooms spanning the Conservatory Terrace.

One of the most innovative pieces in the exhibit is titled “Opus.” Artist Betsy Alwin has used the energy produced by live potato plants to power an MP3 player, which in turn transmits Mozart’s aria “Come Scoglio.” In a statement about her work, Alwin explained the history of the song: After struggles between Mozart and the diva Adriana Ferrarese, “something beautiful arose, a metaphor nuanced by the persistent growth of the taxed potato plants and the subtly ever-present aria.”

Another piece, called “Bio-morphic Forms II,” is a large wooden structure big enough for one person to stand in. One of the few constructed with organic materials, the piece was designed by artist Foon Sham to evoke an intimate feeling and to allow visitors to experience the sense of being within a large organic structure similar to a flower or shell.

Both of these works are being displayed in the East Gallery, but as Nelson stated, “One of the important things we try to do with all the exhibits here is carry them throughout the garden, so they are not isolated.” Thus, several pieces are being displayed outdoors near the Conservatory Terrace.

One of these is David Silverman’s “Hoya 1,” an abstract representation of the hoya blossom. It is a large spiral shape sitting on top of a natural wood base chosen specifically by Silverman to accent the softness of the blossom itself. In a statement, Silverman explained, “Hoyas bloom in umbels, clusters of flowers grouped on one stem. For this piece, I focused on just one. Having collected hoya plants for more than 30 years and being a ceramic sculptor, I merged both passions in this creation.”

Sally Bourrie, public programs coordinator, emphasized the multifaceted aspect of this exhibit, noting the diversity of not only the sculptures but also the accompanying activities and events. These will include a stone-carving workshop on Friday, music and culinary festivals, and a tour of the exhibit on June 18 led by Matt King, an exhibit juror and art professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The exhibit runs through Oct. 12.

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