Cultivating Connections Through Botanical Art

Written by Amy Beck

How many times have colorful blooms caught your eye and caused you to wonder: What is that flower?”

After a harsh winter and a long-awaited spring, we’re especially curious and eager to fixate on plants and flowers transforming the landscape into a lush haven of greenery.

Two summer exhibitions now open at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum celebrate the ephemeral beauty and diversity of plant life via botanical art.

Botanical Art Worldwide: America’s Flora and Flora, Fauna, Font: Illustrating the Alphabet, on view through August 25, highlight the delicate intricacy of trees, plants, and flowers.

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© Linda Medved Lufkin, Bloodroot, 2017, watercolor and gouache on vellum.

With its focus on U.S. indigenous plants — from cacti and trees to woodland flowers — Botanical Art Worldwide: America’s Flora is designed to increase appreciation and understanding of the world’s plant diversity and its interconnectedness. An array of North American flora, both familiar and rare, is meticulously depicted in watercolor and other mediums. Curated by the American Society of Botanical Artists and the United States Botanic Garden, the exhibition is part of a worldwide project emphasizing the importance of conserving botanical diversity and linking people with plants via botanical art.

Kandis Vermeer Phillips, T is the Tulip I picked as a girl, ca.2010, watercolor and shell gold on sheepskin parchment, © Kandis Vermeer Phillips, image courtesy Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Flora, Fauna, Font: Illustrating the Alphabet, features Kandis Vermeer Phillips’ illuminated alphabet adorned with plants, mammals, and insects. Phillips integrated extensive research into the history of medieval illuminated manuscripts — embellished with luminous colors — into an alphabet primer for her granddaughter. She combined decorative letters with representations of flowers and creatures found in her garden and during family travels. This exhibition was organized by the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.

Whether you’re a master gardener, botanical artist, or a plant enthusiast who enjoys pausing to smell life’s roses, these summer exhibitions are sure to delight. An array of programs for all ages and 2 artist residencies offer many ways to “cultivate creativity.”

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Bonnie Gale, Living Willow Dreams, 2018, willow.

During “The Wonders of Willow & Basketry,” June 21-23, artist Bonnie Gale leads a presentation about her career working with willow and 3 workshops for teens and adults. Gale, a New York–based artist and landscape designer who has used willow as her primary medium since the early 1980s, returns to Wausau to lead programs a year after constructing her site-specific “Living Willow Dreams” a 7-foot-tall, domed, willow structure — in the museum’s Sculpture Garden. An accomplished willow basketry artist, Bonnie and her programs weave together the themes of this summer’s botanical art exhibitions. A grant from The Dudley Foundation supported “Living Willow Dreams.” A grant from the B.A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation supports the Bonnie Gale artist residency.

  • Polish Bread Baskets: Teen & Adult Workshop (Friday, June 21, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m.) Bonnie guides participants in weaving willow rods into attractive and functional bread baskets, based on the Polish Tatzca basket. All levels of experience welcome. Fee: $55 for members; $70 for non-members; includes prepared materials and lunch. A list of supplies to bring will be provided. Call 715-845-7010 to register.
  • “Willow Dreams: The Art of Bonnie Gale” (Saturday, June 22, 1–2 p.m.) Working with willow since 1983, Bonnie Gale roots her living structures in traditional willow basketry. Join Bonnie as she presents images and stories documenting the progression of her career and her dreams for future work.
  • Garden Sphere Weaving: Teen & Adult Workshop (Saturday, June 22, 2:30–6 p.m.) Create an attractive, random-weave garden sphere, measuring 15 inches in diameter, with guidance from Bonnie Gale. All levels of experience welcome. Fee: $45 for members; $60 for non-members. A small pre-woven base, prepared materials, and weatherproofing information are included. A list of supplies to bring will be provided. Call 715-845-7010 to register.
  • Pea Cage Trellis: Teen & Adult Workshop (Sunday, June 23, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m.) With instruction from Bonnie, create a pea cage trellis — up to 5 feet tall — for climbing plants. Using jigs for support, participants work at tables to place, secure, and weave presoaked willow rods, yielding striking sculptural designs for the garden. All levels of experience welcome. Fee: $75 for members; $90 for non-members; includes prepared materials and lunch. A list of supplies to bring will be provided. Call 715-845-7010 to register.

During a “Botanical Art” residency, August 1–4, artist Wendy Brockman leads a gallery walk, studio workshop, and in-gallery painting demonstration complementing Botanical Art Worldwide. Known and admired for her elegant and exacting depictions of bird nests, Minnesota-based artist Wendy Brockman shares her expertise and enthusiasm for botanical art. A grant from the B.A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation supports the Wendy Brockman artist residency.

  • Art 101: Guest Artist Gallery Walk (Thursday, August 1, 5:30–6:30 p.m.) join Wendy Brockman for insights into the artworks, aesthetics, and subjects featured in America’s Flora. Wendy also will discuss the history of botanical art and the varied approaches artists take when depicting these subjects.
  • Botanical Sketchbook Journals: Teen & Adult Workshop (Friday & Saturday, August 2 & 3, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.) Join Wendy for a 2-day, mixed-media workshop combining botanical drawings and typography to create distinctive botanical sketchbook journals. Participating teens and adults sharpen drawing and painting skills while exploring science and creative expression. Working in various mediums, participants incorporate their own interests and style as Wendy guides them in creating striking artwork layered with meaning and personal narrative. Fee: $85 for members; $100 for non-members; includes most materials and lunch both days. Information about materials to bring will be provided. Call 715-845-7010 to register.
  • Artist Demonstration (Sunday, August 4, 1–2 p.m.) Ask questions and observe Wendy Brockman as she develops a detailed watercolor botanical painting amid America’s Flora artworks.

For more about these and other museum programs, check the online events calendar, visit, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Botanical-themed fun abounds in Art Park, the museum’s interactive family gallery, where a living plant library inspires drawing and 5-foot alphabet letters prompt imaginary play and provide photo opportunities.

As temperatures climb and mosquitoes hatch outdoors, the Woodson Art Museum’s botanical art-filled galleries are an indoor summer garden-themed oasis.

Visit often with friends and family to discover the many ways botanical art fosters connections between people and plants and deepens appreciation for beauty, creativity, and one another.


The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum serves the Northcentral Wisconsin region through its commitment to always-free admission and a myriad of services offered for area schools, agencies, and all those who call Marathon County home.

© Betsy Rogers-Knox, Woodland Wildflowers, 2016, watercolor on paper.

AmyBeckAmy Beck

Marketing & Communications Manager  |  Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum

A former journalist, Amy has considered it a privilege to champion the Woodson Art Museum since 2010. Drawn by the natural, outdoor beauty of Wisconsin, Amy and her family moved to Wausau in 2007. After living in southwest Florida, upstate New York, and Iowa, Amy; her husband, Michael; two sons; and a daughter fell in love with Wisconsin during a family vacation and continue their quest to explore this state’s biking and hiking trails.  Email Amy Beck.

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