Botanical artist Janet Parker is on a mission to show just how beautiful and important native plants are to Mother Earth.
She founded Oregon Botanical Artists in November 2012 with five other artists and served as its president for the first seven years. It is an Artists Circle of The American Society of Botanical Artists.
Her key concern is how the “earth is being trashed” by its human inhabitants and she plans to bring more awareness to the issue in 2021.
She’s particularly drawn to the beauty and necessity of native plants.
“Native plants are a species that evolved in Oregon for millions of years,” Parker says. “I have been stunned to hear avid gardeners refer to native plants as a bunch of hooey. I’ve heard them referred to as the ugly duckling on a strip mall or as medicine we should take.”
Members of OBA currently are working with Oregon Society of Artists to host an exhibition featuring artwork depicting Oregon’s native plants. The exhibition (if current restrictions are lifted) will include presentations, symposia and other events designed to highlight the importance of native plants in Oregon — with the intention to raise public awareness of their importance.
Parker is concerned about the survival of native plants, which she sees being pushed out by the number of people taking over natural spaces or introducing non-native species, “which tend to disrupt the natural order,” she says.
If allowed to continue, “the event will also bring gravitas to the OSA, an Oregon treasure that was once a sleepy place but is now a hub of activities,” Parker says.
She has been teaching since 2012 at Oregon Society of Artists, an organization dedicated to the education and nurturing of talent in the visual arts.
But it was a problem with her eyesight as a child that led Parker to more closely examine the natural world around her.
“I have been hopelessly near-sighted since about the third grade,” she says. “Overall, I have felt it has had a positive effect on my life. It requires that you look at nature up close and discover the beauty and complexity to be found when you do.”
She says she was always viewed as the “class artist” while growing up and chose graphic design as a fun and challenging career. When she and a friend decided to take a botanical drawing class at the New York Botanical Garden in 2005, Parker says she had no idea “how hooked I would quickly become.”
She finds natural subjects infinitely interesting and after she received specific training in drawing botanical subjects, she was able to really see nature in a new way.
“Looking at the various reproductive parts of plants under a microscope reminds me of the thrill I found the first time I went snorkeling — the discovery of a ‘secret’ world of complex and strange beauty, a world that’s always present and accessible, but often goes unnoticed.”
She said drawing these subjects transports her to another place. “It is both meditative and energizing — a feeling brought about by nothing else I know of.”
She has a Botanical Illustration Certificate from New York Botanical Garden and a BFA in Communication Design at the Parsons School of Design. Her work has appeared in many significant publications, such as the Wall Street Journal’s Horticulture Magazine and the quarterly journal of the American Society of Botanical Artists.
Parker’s career in graphic design has included working as art director for CQ, Art & Antiques, Time and Newsweek; and Tin House in Portland. She left that position in 2009 to devote herself to her first love — botanical art.
“I knew when I started OBA that I would need a community of like-minded artists if I was ever going to make a go of pursuing a life as a botanical artist,” Parker says. “We wanted to create an audience that’s aware of this art form. It seems a natural fit, particularly with the remarkable, unique diversity of plant life here.”
Parker has taught communication design at Parsons School of Design, and currently teaches botanical drawing classes and workshops in and around Portland; she offers private tutoring as well.
She has exhibited in group shows at the Marin Art and Garden Center and the Filoli Gardens, both in northern California; in New York City; St. Michael’s Maryland; Portland, Salem and Hillsboro; and commissioned for use in product packaging by Williams-Sonoma and Dusky Goose Vineyards in Dundee.
She has several pieces in private collections and is currently working with a class on studying Oregon native plants throughout the course of a year.
Parker says teaching has been a way for artists to earn a living while pursuing their art. “Without places to teach what would happen to all of us?” she says.