Botanical art, botanical illustration and flower painting are not the same thing. The emphasis on scientific accuracy and aesthetic value varies among the three, but they all showcase a plant's composition and beauty. And now, in a show that very well might be the first of its kind, the University of Colorado Boulder is giving cannabis the beauty treatment.
"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 persuading a handful of artists to take part in the project, Fisher found a cannabis grower in Longmont who provided plant samples for models. The time spent with their subjects seems to have turned some of the artists, Fisher notes; a number of them now grow their own plants, and she's considering doing the same with hemp. "I think they're beginning to get past the giggles. I'm thrilled that we can at least make a showing," she adds.
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.
Not all of the illustrations are scientific; some of them simply showcase the characteristics of a top cola flower, seed or root. "Botanical illustration can do something cameras cannot do. It can describe to you all the different things about plant in a defined area. If we had the actual plant here, you wouldn't be able to see all of this. You need to see the roots, the blossom, the fruit," Fisher explains. "It's also done to show how beautiful the plant is. Sometimes that's all the PR it needs. So many of these cannabis plants are just so beautiful."
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.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.