A Morning at Bok Tower
“Flora & Fauna II”
by Robert Leedy, 2009,
watercolor on Arches 300 lb. Hot Press paper,
22.75″ x 30.375″
Bok Tower Gardens is probably the greenest art venue in the country. Located on one of Florida’s highest elevations (298 feet) among rolling hills of citrus groves near Lake Wales, Bok Tower recently celebrated its 8oth birthday (as my dear mom just did.) Bok Tower was dedicated on February 1st, 1929 by President Calvin Coolidge. The Tower and Gardens are the brainchild of Edward W. Bok, a self-made editor and publisher whose Dutch immigrant parents arrived by boat to New York during the late 1800’s.
Bok and his wife wintered in Lake Wales and sought to create a bird sanctuary on nearby Iron Mountain, the current site of Bok Tower Gardens. Bok commissioned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to design “a spot of beauty second to none”. Olmsted’s father was famous as the designer of New York’s Central Park. The gardens were begun in 1921.
Bok then turned to architect Milton B. Medary to create a 205-foot tall Late Gothic Revival Tower on the site. It was built with marble from Georgia and coquina stone from Daytona Beach, Florida and contains sculptures designed by Lee Lawrie. The tower is the centerpiece of the gardens and is known as “The Singing Tower” for the 60-bell carillon that it houses.
Edward Bok died in 1930 – shortly after the dedication of the tower. He is interred at the base of the tower.
The lush, picturesque gardens are full of exotic and indigenous plants and flowers. It is also a habitat for a full range of birds, reptiles and butterflies. Several endangered species can be found in the gardens or in Bok’s 100-acre Pine Ridge Nature Reserve, including the indigo snake, the gopher tortoise, gopher frogs and the Florida mouse. Two swans also call the reflection pond home.
Bok Tower Gardens is a National Historic Landmark and hosts thousands of visitors yearly. The Visitor Center houses a museum, gallery space and theater. A constant lineup of activities include recitals, concerts, art shows, cultural events, workshops of all kinds, nature walks, educational seminars, field trips, and more.
In preparation for an exhibit of my paintings at Bok Tower Gardens, I spent several days painting and photographing in the gardens. Given the opportunity, I could probably spend a year in the gardens painting. There is so much inspiration!
My first visit with painting gear was back in October. I was very impressed with the Victoria water lilies which were in bloom at the time. You certainly can’t miss them when they’re in season – the lily pads look like your breakfast table painted green with red accents! The lily pads can supposedly support up to 90 pounds in weight. These gargantuan beauties – typically thought to be from the Amazon – were first seen by European travelers near Corrientes, Argentina in the early 1800’s. Of course, this in no way means theirs were the first human eyes to spot them – perhaps the first payrolled horticulturists to do so….
I completed several paintings where the Victoria water lily is either the sole subject or it creeps in as part of the composition. I also currently have several works in progress that were inspired by these beautiful creations of nature. Unfortunately, the Victoria lilies were not in season when I came back this March for the opening of my show. The Victorias will bloom in October and November; I’m not sure when the growing season starts but I’m sure it takes a while for them to reach the sizes that they do. I believe the largest recorded species grows upwards of 100 inches in diameter and that is somewhere in Bolivia.
It is interesting to note that Bok Tower Gardens actually publishes a flowering schedule. All of the staff working in the gardens are very knowledgeable and can answer most questions. In fact, most of the folks working inside are quite knowledgeable about the plants, flowers and animals as well. Pirjo Restina, Curator of Education for Bok Tower Gardens, who also put my show together, sounded like a biologist as she gave me an extensive golf cart tour of the property last fall.
Although the Victoria water lilies were not in bloom on this trip, I had a very nice surprise as I drove up to help Pirjo hang the show: The orange blossoms from the surrounding groves were in full swing and their scent provided a wonderful perfume for visitors to the opening night reception. What a great touch, I thought…
Two paintings in the current show – “Robert Leedy: Vignettes in Paint” – contain a lot of imagery taken from drawings and photographs of the gardens and tower. Both are unique in that I normally do not work in the manner that they were created. This was a step outside of the box which is occasionally good for any artist seeking a bit of fresh ideas; It keeps everything interesting…
I began “Flora & Fauna II” [see image top of page] with a loose, application of watercolor washes on Arches 300 lb. Hot Press paper to serve as an underpainting. Once the underpainting was dry, I transferred several combined contour line drawings and though I kept recognizable images, many images were fused for the sake of pure abstraction. This is even more evident in “Flora & Fauna I” [see image below] which is a sister painting that pretty much went through the same process though it is on different watercolor paper. With a cake decorating bag filled with gray latex paint, I followed the contour drawing, squeezing out the somewhat thick paint through the smallest metal nozzle which, I believe, is called a #1 in the bakery world. The lines create small enlosed borders – “pools”, I call them – and since the lines are raised, they will contain the pigment. The resulting effect is not unlike cloisonné or stained glass. If you are a painterly painter, it can be a bit frustrating as you are rather confined to painting – or coloring – within the lines; however, some of the enclosed areas may be large enough to allow different pigments to run together for interesting color and effects. You painterly types can let loose with the underpainting which serves as a unifying element and keeps the work a painting and not an illustration. I attribute this technique to Doug Walton, a Louisiana watercolorist who really takes the underpainting seriously by going as far as producing a deck of spirit cards that are randomly chosen as holy ground for a specific painting. Anything to get the abstraction process rolling, I say…
“Flora & Fauna I”
by Robert Leedy, 2009,
watercolor on Fabriano Uno 140 lb. paper,
22.375″ x 29.75″
Both paintings were a lot of fun to undertake though I must say that they slowed down the decision making process as color choices had to be made as I went along – based on what was put down before. Color relationships were very important. And though the two paintings are visually active and full, it was tricky keeping them out of chaos.
While visiting a week after the opening, I hoped to get back out to Bok Tower to catch some good light. Last Sunday morning, I trekked out early to photograph the gardens. Weekends are normally busy but I was able to have the place to myself shortly after 8 a.m.. Below is a video I took. I apologize for not using a tripod as it is a bit shaky in places. But the video gives you a nice overall feel for the beauty of this place:
Bok Tower Gardens is a visual delight and a wonderful sanctuary from the hectic, everyday world. If you have not been, I highly recommend it. (The art’s pretty good too!) I became a member last month and hope to make more plein air treks on my future visits to Central Florida. Art, nature and learning is a great combination!
To purchase the painting, “Flora & Fauna I” by Robert Leedy, click here
To purchase the painting, “Flora & Fauna II” by Robert Leedy, click here
Both paintings are currently on view in the exhibit, “Robert Leedy: Vignettes in Paint”, at Bok Tower Gardens, March 28, 2009 thru May 28, 2009. Bok Tower Gardens and The Visitor Center are open daily.
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You’re currently reading “A Morning at Bok Tower,” an entry on Robert Leedy Watercolors
- April 7, 2009 / 2:23 pm
- Abstract Art, Art, Artists, Leedy Artwork, Painters, Painting, Plein Air Painting, Watercolor, Watercolour