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Newsletter September 2011

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Newsletter September 2011

NEWSLETTER September 2011

Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

Fall is coming in softly this year, in gentle nudges. We have already had one frost, but many of the days since then have been warm and summer-like. A flock of flickers stopped off for breakfast in our yard this morning, on their way south. It will not be long until the color is behind us and the landscape is all black and white again.

I spent a lot of my studio time in September revisiting an old friend, the bloodroot plant, Sanguinaria canadensis. Working from photos that I took this year, I have been reworking my bloodroot drawings into the format I have chosen for the Swift River Treasures drawings, colored pencil on heavy Arches watercolor paper. Here is the mixed media drawing I did in 2009, and the drawing that I just finished, so you can compare them.

The old drawing is on the left, and the new one on the right. I will be going back and redoing the other subjects from my first year of botanical studies, too, like the pine tree and the Canada lily. Then the work will present a cohesive image that I can turn into a fine book.

I have also gone deeper in my research of the bloodroot plant and found out some marvelous things about it. For example, bloodroot plants have a fascinating relationship with the ants that live among their roots. Their seeds carry an appendage called an elaiosome that is a very nutritious food source for the ants. The ants collect the seeds, carry them home, and eat the elaiosomes. Then they discard the rest of the seed, still intact, in their refuse tunnels. This provides ideal conditions for the seeds to germinate and grow, safe from being eaten by other predators. This mutually beneficial relationship between the ants and the plants is called “myrmecochory.” The ants get the food. The bloodroot seeds are preserved, moved away from the parent plants, and given an ideal environment for germination. And this produces more food for the ants. A number of wildflowers are myrmecochorous (for example, trilliums and some violets).

Bloodroot is an ephemeral spring star. The blossoms last only about a week. Insects to pollinate the flowers can be scarce in the early spring, but I have found out that this does not matter. For the first two days after the flower opens, the stamens are close to the petals and do not contact the stigma, even at night when the flower is closed. But on the third day, the anthers are positioned upright and the filaments bend inward, so that the plant will self-pollinate if it has not already been pollinated by an insect. I had no idea that the bloodroot was such a marvel of natural design.

I have also started work on a large (three feet by five feet) painting about the bloodroot. I am in the composition stage with it right now, pushing the design elements around on my computer screen. I will keep you up to date on my progress with it over the next few months.

My gift to you this month is a file of the drawing of the bloodroot bloom with the leaf behind it, attached to this newsletter. You may do what you will with it; I give you my permission.

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my artmaking process, or recent work, or to check out my blog, see my website at Here you can order prints of my art, and have them matted and framed if you choose, courtesy of Fine Art America’s great print-on-demand service. They also offer greeting cards, either single or in packages.

If you want to look at the Moments of Transcendence book, here is the link to it on the booksite: And my online store for shirts, mugs, and housewares can be found at
All the big people are simple, as simple as the unexplored wilderness. They love the universal things that are free to everybody. Light and air and food and love and some work are enough. In the varying phases of these cheap and common things, the great lives have found their joy. (Carl Sandburg, in a letter to his wife, as quoted in My Connemara by his granddaughter, Paula Steichen)

Thanks for joining me in the journey. I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.