NATIVE PLANTS AND THEIR NON-NATIVE ARTIST

Trail users who enjoy the native flora of our natural environment shouldn’t miss the exhibition “Plant Portraits: the California Legacy of A. R. Valentien,” on view at the Wildling Art Museum in Los Olivos through June 11.

Those who might think these are just “flower pictures” would miss an opportunity to view the results of a collaboration that has often produced great art throughout the centuries: that of an enlightened patron and the talented artist chosen to work under the patron’s largess.

In this case, the patron was Ellen Browning Scripps (1836-1932), London-born but raised in the Midwest after her widowed father immigrated to America when she was eight years old. Working tirelessly and investing her own savings, Scripps co-founded several successful newspapers with her brothers and became a wealthy woman. In 1896, she retired and moved to La Jolla, and lived the remaining 35 years of her life as a Californian.

The artist, Albert R. Valentien (1862-1925), was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. When the famous Rookwood Pottery was established in that city, Valentien was hired as the first salaried employee of the decorating staff at the age of 19. He had studied at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Design, where, writes exhibition curator Margaret Dykens in the accompanying catalogue, “teachers at the school…offered classes that emphasized the use of local plants and flowers for decorative design, and required that students observe the various parts of plants, studying them in their natural habitat and sketching such details as roots, branching patterns, fruits and seeds, buds and blossoms.”

Such training stood Valentien well, when he and his wife visited San Diego in 1903 and fell in love with California. During their eight-month sojourn he painted 150 renditions of California wildflowers, which were exhibited in San Diego before the Valentiens returned to their jobs at the Rookwood Pottery. Presumably, Ellen Browning Scripps visited the show, as she “was a San Diego philanthropist and natural history devotee who had a great interest in the local plants and animals found in the diverse habitats of California,” writes Dykens.

Eventually, Valentien and his wife resigned from their positions in Cincinnati and in 1908, bought a home in San Diego where they lived the rest of their lives. It was then that Scripps commissioned Valentien to paint all the wildflowers of California, a far larger project than either of them could imagine.

Valentien spent the years from 1908 to 1918 traveling to different parts of California, and illustrated 1,500 plant species. In addition to wildflowers, his illustrations include renditions of grasses, trees, ferns and shrubs.

Valentien’s output was sadly his downfall, as this large body of work proved too expensive to publish during his lifetime, even for a patron as wealthy as Scripps. However, she kept them on her property in a fireproof outbuilding, which saved them when her home was threatened by flames. According to Michael Hager, executive director of the San Diego Natural History Museum in his catalogue Introduction, Scripps “so treasured the paintings that she wouldn’t donate them to the Museum until it had a fireproof building.”

At her death in 1932, Scripps provided the San Diego Natural History Museum with a bequest large enough to construct such a building the following year. There the paintings have resided until this exhibition, nearly a century after their creation.

Albert Valentien once wrote, “While not a botanist, knowing absolutely nothing about botany, I have simply painted what I saw and how I saw it.” To those of us who are out on the trail with our digital cameras, effortlessly recording the natural specimens that capture our attention, Valentien’s humble assessment of his own work is truly misplaced modesty.

Mark Your Calendar

Friday, June 2

Film: “Microcosmos”

7 pm, free admission

Wildling Art Museum Office

2948 Nojoqui Street, Suite 4

Los Olivos

Do you ever wonder what lurks beneath your feet as you traverse the trails? Find out in this documentary film produced by Jacques Perrin, who also made lyrical bird watching film, “Winged Migration.” Microscopic cameras and specialized microphones capture secret life of the smallest insects as they scurry among leaves and grasses, as well as the remarkable sounds they make, inaudible to us most of the time; 75 minutes. Complimentary popcorn, cookies, wine, water and soft drinks. Reservations not required, but space is limited. Seats available on first-come, first-served basis. For more information call 688-1082, or visit www.wildlingmuseum.org.

Saturday, June 3

Santa Maria Elks Rodeo Parade

Los Padres Trail Riders

A good first-timers parade. Theme is “Salute the Flag.” Trail Riders members wear parade outfits and decorate for 4th of July parade. Be in line at 8:30 am for parade start at 9:30 am. For more information call Barbara Wolf at 964-3458.

Wednesday, June 7

Spring Potluck Dinner

Los Padres Trail Riders

Hearts Adaptive Riding Center

6 pm

Bring personal place settings and your favorite dish to share. Enjoy sunset and other horse-minded friends. For more information call Lorraine Argo at 686-8781.

Saturday, June 10

Montecito Trails Foundation Hike

Parma Park, Easy

3 miles, 375-foot elevation gain

Meet at trailhead on Stanwood Drive. Hike up network of trails through oaks, canyons and old roads to high viewpoint. Hike departs at 8:30 am, but arrive 10 minutes early to check in and sign release forms. For more information call Dick Drosendahl at 963-8858.

Saturday, June 10

“An Evening with the Cowboys”

Carriage & Western Art Museum

Pershing Park

Annual fundraiser for this local museum, which collects, displays and preserves historic horse-drawn vehicles, saddles, and western memorabilia. No-host cocktails begin at 5 pm, dinner from 5:30 to 7 pm. Beloved cowboy poet Jake Copass serves as Master of Ceremonies, Dave Stamey provides cowboy music, and Gary Robertson tells “good old western stories.” Evening also features Western artists, authors and a raffle. Tickets are $40 each. For more information call Tom Peterson at 737-1619 or Peter Georgi at 569-0731, or visit www.carriagemuseum.org.

Sunday, June 11

Last Day of Exhibition:

“Plant Portraits: The California

Legacy of A.R. Valentien”

Wildling Art Museum

2329 Jonata Street

Los Olivos

Because of space constraints, 80 watercolors in exhibition have been shown in rotation; this is the last section. Free admission, $2 suggested donation for non-member adults. See above for detailed information, or call 688-1082, or visit www.wildlingmuseum.org.