"We have a rich, rich history of botanical illustration in the state of Colorado," explains Susan Fisher, a botany artist featured in Cannabis: A Visual Perspective. "But there were huge conversations around this subject, because it was, you know, cannabis."
Still, Suzanne Balog of CU's Museum of Natural History was willing to give such an exhibit a try. She and Fisher decided that the show would be a good way to get the word out about the university's cannabis impairment research project while highlighting the work of local artists.
Fisher recruited members of the Rocky Mountain Society of Botanical Artists to create a range of pencil and watercolor renditions of hemp and cannabis, showing both the anatomy and artistic value of the plants. Although purple and red hues and resin glands aren't unique to cannabis, getting serious artists to paint plants called Purple Haze and Kandy Kush took a little convincing.
"We did not get a lot of entries. Some people let their preconceived notions about marijuana get the better of them. I was like, 'Really?,'" Fisher recalls. "You have an opportunity here to describe to the public what this new thing is."
After decades of pretending cannabis didn't exist, more and more academic institutions are embracing its history and science. A botanical-art exhibit in the basement of a university museum might not seem like a large step, but it represents a tangible shift in public perception. Now that CU has displayed the works, the Salida SteamPlant Event Center will showcase them next, with an art gallery in Durango also in line.
Cannabis: A Visual Perspective runs through Sunday, May 20, at the CU Museum of Natural History. Admission is free, but a $1 to $3 donation is suggested. Learn more on the museum's website.