Thursday, May 24, 2012

In the Time of Yucca

Yucca, graphite on paper by Fran Hardy copyright
32 3/4" x 31"

I  just came back from New Jersey on a business trip. I must admit that I loved the lush greenness and the ancient trees of all kinds, especially at night after a rain dripping with water and mist. But when I got back to New Mexico the yuccas were in spectacular bloom everywhere. I couldn't believe how blinding the sunlight felt to me compared to sunny days on the east coast, but I quickly adjusted to the wonderfully intense vibration of light in the high desert. And I am delighting in all the various types of yucca in bloom around Santa Fe. Above is the beginning of my yucca series focusing on the fabulous blooms. That led me to the two more abstracted pieces below.

Dusk, mixed media on panel with sgraffito, 36" x 46" by Fran Hardy copyright

This piece was in a traveling museum show of my work entitled "Pentimento" as I scratched through the various layers to bring forth the yucca flowers and the yellow orbs. It makes me think of fireflies flickering at night.

Annunciation, colored pencil and china marker on acrylic on panel, 36" x 46" by Fran Hardy copyright
fixed and varnished

The background of this piece is based on navajo rug patterns and because of the cross symbolism and the angelic nature of the white yucca flowers I titled it 'Annunciation'. I am spiritually but not religiously oriented but I love the concept and symbolism of the annunciation and the early renaissance paintings of the angel coming to Mary. 

Yucca Tree, acrylic on panel, 52" x 36" by Fran Hardy copyright

This piece is hard to appreciate on this small scale. I saw this incredible type of large yucca in front of a gas station on St. Michael's Drive right in the middle of Santa Fe and hopped out immediately to take reference pictures. Beauty can be found in the most unexpected places.

And now last but not least............
Here are three pieces that I found inspiration for in an incredible, primordial joshua tree forest in north western Arizona when they were in bloom. The blooms are succulent and luscious and smell like hot wax. They are pollinated by a single species of tiny moth called appropriately the yucca moth. They only bloom when the rains come at the right time. 

The first two of these, "Joshua Tree from Above" and "Joshua Tree Blooms" will be in a show entitled "Art Inspired by the Natural World" at Calabi Gallery in Petaluma, CA. Dennis is one of those rare art dealers who is all about the art and treating the artist with great respect. Dealers like him in the increasingly commercial fast sell orientation of today's art world are becoming increasingly hard to find.
The show opens June 21 with a reception from 5-8pm.

Joshua Tree Blooms, watercolor and graphite on panel, 36" x 30", fixed and varnished by Fran Hardy copyright

Joshua Tree from Above, colored pencil on acrylic ground on panel, 43 1/2" x 48" by Fran Hardy copyright, fixed and varnished

Joshua Trees in Bloom, 32" x 50", watercolor and graphite on panel, fixed and varnished
by Fran Hardy copyright

So now you get a glimpse of my obsession with the gnarly radiant beauty of the yucca family. And seeing all the others in bloom here inspires me to do more with our smaller yucca plants that are carpeting our high desert environment. 

For more of my trees go to my website:

To hear more about our documentary projects on the intersection of art, ecological sustainability and cultural preservation go to our website. New Mexico is our next project and we will be receiving funding from the New Mexico Arts Council. We will also be doing further fundraising as they require matching funds. Earthcare New Mexico is our non-profit 501c3 fiscal sponsor so if you want to donate you will receive a tax deduction. 

I am busy getting ready for the show I am curating at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art in conjunction with our Oklahoma documentary which premiered there and will be aired on OETA, Oklahoma PBS.     You can see clips of our shows on the site also.

Yucca is a genus of perennial shrubs and trees in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agavoideae.[2] Its 40-50 species are notable for their rosettes of evergreen, tough, sword-shaped leaves and large terminal panicles of white or whitish flowers. They are native to the hot and dry (arid) parts of North America,Central AmericaSouth America, and the Caribbean. Early reports of the species were confused with the cassava (Manihot esculenta).[3] Consequently,Linnaeus mistakenly derived the generic name from the Carib word for the latter, yuca (spelt with a single "c").[4] It is also colloquially known in the midwest United States as "Ghosts in the graveyard", as it is commonly found growing in rural graveyards and when in bloom the flowers appear as an apparition floating.


Distribution of the capsular fruited species in southwest, midwest USA, Mexico's Baja California and Canada. Overview
The natural distribution range of the genus Yucca (49 species and 24 subspecies) covers a vast area of North and Central America. From Baja California in the west, northwards into the southwestern United States, through the drier central states as far north as Alberta in Canada (Yucca glauca ssp. albertana), and moving east along the Gulf of Mexico, and then north again, through the Atlantic coastal and inland neighbouring states. To the south, the genus is represented throughout Mexico and extends into Guatemala (Yucca guatemalensis). Yuccas have adapted to an equally vast range of climatic and ecological conditions. They are to be found in rocky deserts and badlands, in prairies and grassland, in mountainous regions, in light woodland, in coastal sands (Yucca filamentosa), and even in subtropical and semi-temperate zones, although these are generally arid to semi-arid.
Yuccas have a very specialized, mutualistic pollination system, being pollinated by yucca moths (family Prodoxidae); the insect purposefully transfers thepollen from the stamens of one plant to the stigma of another, and at the same time lays an egg in the flower; the moth larva then feeds on some of the developing seeds, always leaving enough seed to perpetuate the species. Yucca species are the host plants for the caterpillars of the Yucca Giant-Skipper (Megathymus yuccae),[5] Ursine Giant-Skipper (Megathymus ursus),[6] and Strecker's Giant-Skipper (Megathymus streckeri).[7]

Info on Joshua Trees:
To go to Joshua Tree National Park in CA. here is more information on the park.

Yucca brevifolia is a plant species belonging to the genus Yucca. It is tree-like in habit, which is reflected in its common names: Joshua treeyucca palm,tree yucca, and palm tree yucca.[1][2][3]
This monocotyledonous tree is native to southwestern North America in the states of CaliforniaArizonaUtah and Nevada, where it is confined mostly to theMojave Desert between 400 and 1,800 meters (1,300 and 5,900 ft) elevation. It thrives in the open grasslands of Queen Valley and Lost Horse Valley in Joshua Tree National Park. A dense Joshua tree forest also exists in Mojave National Preserve, in the area of Cima Dome.
Two subspecies have been described:[4] Yucca brevifolia ssp. jaegeriana (the Jaeger Joshua tree or Jaeger's Joshua tree or pygmae yucca) and Yucca brevifolia ssp. herbertii (Webber's yucca or Herbert Joshua tree), though both are sometimes treated as varieties[5][6][7] or forms.[8]


The name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree's unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. Ranchers and miners who were contemporary with the Mormon immigrants also took advantage of the Joshua tree, using the trunks and branches as fencing and for fuel for ore-processing steam engines. It is also called izote de desierto.[9] It was first formally described in the botanical literature as Yucca brevifolia by George Engelmann in 1871 as part of the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel


Sunday, May 6, 2012

An inside look: The Artist's Process

On the easel in process a Cypress Swamp from Oklahoma in oil over egg tempera with many more layers of glaze and detail to go
Fran Hardy copyright

I'll keep you posted as this piece evolves as there will be many more layers of glazing and lots more detail work. Oil over egg tempera is an early renaissance technique developed by Van Eyck and it is unparalleled for luminosity. I first saw it used in St. Francis in the Desert by Giovanni Bellini and was transfixed. I am curating an exhibit at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art September 15- October 28, 2012 which will include the work of the artists we interviewed for our documentary "Earth Chronicles Project, The Artist's Process:Oklahoma" as well as my installation on the trees of Oklahoma. And yes there are cypress swamps in Oklahoma. It is a far more diverse state than most people realize. The documentary will air on OETA, Oklahoma PBS in September also.

In the meantime I am also working on "Quintus's River Birch" for the show in colored pencil on acrylic ground. Once more I am lost in obsessive detail. I seem unable to get away from it. My husband says my trees make people look close at things they may just walk by. Well I certainly am getting up close and I hope that my trees will help to raise awareness of how important they are in our world and to our environment. Everyone sees different faces, creatures and spirits in my trees so I decided to add a few more blatant ones in this piece. I just love this curling bark, constantly regenerating and changing. I saw this tree on Quintus Herron's preserve in Idabel, OK. He also has a beautiful cypress swamp. Idabel is in the gulf coastal region in southeastern Oklahoma so there are many plants and trees you might not associate with Oklahoma. 
Fran Hardy copyright


I'll make this a bit more subtle as I continue on this piece.

Where the show will be September 15- October 28, 2012
They also premiered our documentary "Earth Chronicles Project, The Artist's Process: Oklahoma" to a crowd from all over Oklahoma and even surrounding states.

Betula nigra (River Birch; also occasionally called Water Birch) is a species of birch native to the eastern United States from New Hampshire west to southern Minnesota, and south to northern Florida and west Texas. It is commonly found in flood plains and/or swamps.[1] It is a deciduous tree growing to 25 m (80 ft), rarely to 30 m (100 ft), high with a trunk up to 50 cm (2 ft), rarely 150 cm (5 ft), diameter, often with multiple trunks. The bark is variable, usually dark gray-brown to pinkish-brown and scaly, but in some individuals, smooth and creamy pinkish-white, exfoliating in curly papery sheets. The twigs are glabrous or thinly hairy, and odorless when scraped. The leaves are alternate, ovate, 4–8 cm (1.5–3 in) long and 3–6 cm (1.2-2.4 in) broad, with a serrated margin and five to twelve pairs of veins. The flowers are wind-pollinated catkins 3–6 cm (1.2-2.4 in) long, the male catkins pendulous, the female catkins erect. The fruit is unusual among birches in maturing in late spring; it is composed of numerous tiny winged seeds packed between the catkin bracts.[1][2]

[edit]Cultivation and uses

While its native habitat is wet ground, it will grow on higher land, and its bark is quite distinctive, making it a favored ornamental tree for landscape use. A number of cultivars with much whiter bark than the normal wild type have been selected for garden planting, including 'Heritage' and 'Dura Heat'; these are notable as the only white-barked birches resistant to the bronze birch borer Agrilus anxius in warm areas of the southeastern United States of America.[3]
Native Americans used the boiled sap as a sweetener similar to maple syrup, and the inner bark as a survival food. It is usually too contorted and knotty to be of value as a timber tree.[3]

The tallest known individual specimen, near Williamsburg, Virginia, is 44.11 m tall, and the stoutest known, in the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has a diameter of 521 cm.[4] The oldest known specimen, located in Bladen County, North Carolina, is over 1,620 years old making this one of the oldest living plants in Eastern North America .


Bald-cypress range
Bald-cypress on the Texas side ofCaddo Lake
The native range extends from Delaware Bay south to Florida and west to Texas and southeastern Oklahoma-(Little Dixie region, Oklahoma), and also inland up theMississippi and Ohio Rivers north to southern Illinois and Indiana. Large planted specimens are seen as far north as Pittsburgh[9]. Ancient Bald-cypress forests, with some trees more than 1,700 years old, once dominated swamps in the southeast US. The largest remaining old-growth stands of Bald-cypress are atCorkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, near NaplesFlorida.[citation needed] and in the Three Sisters tract along eastern North Carolina's Black River. The Corkscrew trees are around 500 years of age and some exceed 40 m in height. The Black River trees were cored in 1986 by University of Arkansas dendrologists with dates ranging back to 364 AD.[10]In the northern and more inland part of its range from Delaware and Maryland to Williamsburg, Virginia, it is found in groups growing in swamps and is accompanied by other hardwoods. In the southern parts of its range from extreme southeastern Virginia, Virginia Beach south to Florida and west to Texas, bald cypress can be found growing with loblolly pinelive oak and it may be heavily covered in spanish moss. A place to observe this in the far northern part of its range is at First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, Virginia where you will see bald cypress growing with live oak, loblolly pine, spanish moss and other trees at their farthest north and farthest south ranges. From eastern North Carolina down throughout Florida, bald cypress may be accompanied in forests by sabal minor (dwarf palmetto).

Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigment mixed with a water-soluble binder medium (usually a glutinous material such as egg yolk or some other size). Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium. Tempera paintings are very long lasting, and examples from the 1st centuries AD still exist. Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of oil painting. A paint which is commonly called tempera (although it is not) consisting of pigment and glue size is commonly used and referred to by some manufacturers in America asposter paint.

Egg tempera was the paint used by virtually all artists during the Middle Ages. In fact, the use of tempera paint can be traced back to ancient Egypt. In the early Renaissance, artists used egg yolk as a binding agent, mixing in colored pigments to create egg tempera paint. Egg tempera had its limitations. It could not be stored, so each color was mixed when it was needed. Mixing too little paint was a disaster because mixing additional paint to match the first batch perfectly was very difficult. Mixing too much paint was a waste of expensive materials. Because egg tempera dries very quickly, artists had to paint small areas at one time. The fast drying time made blending one color into another difficult, so artists layered one color over another dry color to create modeling; a way to give three-dimensionality to forms by shading or blending.
The limitations of tempera paint did not stop its use in Medieval Europe. Most artists were painting pictures of religious figures and these paintings were not meant to tell viewers what the saints looked like. The images were meant to represent the saints. As the Renaissance took hold, artists became more interested in describing what the world around them looked like in their paintings. As landscapes and real people began to appear in paintings, the problem of tempera became more apparent. Oil paint provided a solution.
Game Stall at Market
Studio of Frans Snyders
Game Stall at Market, 1625/37
Oil on canvas
Oil paint was used as early as the 12th century in Northern Europe but its potential was not realized until 15th century painters in the Netherlands used oil paint to combine extraordinary realism with brilliant color. Oil paint is very flexible so it can be applied in both thick textured brushstrokes and thin fine detail. It dries very slowly, allowing artists to mix larger batches of paint and keep it for more than one painting session. Slow drying paint can be carefully blended to make soft, seamless shadows necessary for the modeling that suggests three-dimensional form. The oil in oil paint makes pigments translucent, allowing artists to apply colors in thin layers or glazes, generating rich, glowing colors. All these properties make it especially good for communicating textures of different surfaces from polished marble to sparkling eyes, from soft feathers to dazzling highlights on a crystal glass.
Is the Painting Cracking Up?
If you've ever seen an old oil painting covered with thin, hairlike cracks, you've probably wondered — is the painting broken? Oil paint shrinks as it dries. Oil paint that is applied thickly may shrink so much that it cracks as it dries. So, if the first layer of paint is very thick, and thin layers are painted on top of it before it is totally dry, it will crack all the layers applied thereafter. As the paint continues to dry, the cracks will get bigger. As artists gained more experience working with oil paint, they learned to prevent cracking by painting thin, fast drying layers first and leaving the thick, slow drying layers for last.
As artists traveled between the Netherlands and Southern Europe, the techniques of oil painting spread and grew. Many artists used tempera to prepare most of the painting and then applied glazes of transparent oil paint over the tempera. As more and more artists used oil paint, tempera was used less and less. By 1800, artists no longer needed to mix their own paints. They could buy pre-mixed oil colors in tubes. While most painters today do not paint in the style of the Renaissance, they still largely prefer oil paint and draw on techniques and traditions that have been practiced for the last 500 years.