ART AND ALPINES BLOOM AT WAVE HILL – ABBIE ZABAR’S TEN YEARS OF FLOWERS

JESS ROZENKRANZ EXAMINES ONE OF ABBIE ZABAR’S PRECIOUS PAINTINGS OF THE FLOWER ARRANGEMENTS IN THE GREAT HALL OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, IN HER SOLO EXHIBIT CURRENTLY ON DISPLAY AT THE WAVE HILL BOTANIC GARDEN AND CULTURAL CENTER, NY.

I’ve never been to Wave Hill before, so when this opportunity to not only attend the opening of our dear friend Abbie Zabar in her exhibit entitled ‘Abbie Zabar – Ten Years of Flowers’ and a chance to visit this important American garden, we had little problem planning a quick one day trip to New York City – well, to be honest, we had a bit of a problem, as I was double booked having to miss a Tower Hill Botanic Garden committee meeting, but I’m sure everyone understands. At least I didn’t have garden chore guilt due to Saturday’s work fest with the walk, and we figured that we could stop by Terrain in Westport, CT on the way – since hey, we could always use a few more plants.

I couldn’t think of a nicer venue for Abbie’s small paintings of which ironically capture in miniature scale, what were once the most massive floral arrangements which used to be constructed in the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve admired about 8 of this series in Abbie’s penthouse over the years, but I never imagined that she had painted so many – this a small, intimate exhibit, which makes the experience even better. What at first may seem repetitious, the experienced plant person, floral arranger or artist will eventually see all sorts of differences. Like a game of taxonomy, the floral works, often constructed in the same large urn, changes with light, season and plant material.

Abbie painted these on various papers, some of on craft paper, I even think she used a few paper shopping bags), while others were painted on the highest quality rag paper. She also used all sorts of mediums, for Abbie is not one for following rules, if a more sensible option is handy ( white-out for opaque white, for example). In these works, one can see her fluid, lucid line work in pencil, gauche, watercolor, colored pencils and yes, even White-out. The brush work is fast and immediate, one can appreciate the gestural quality yet nothing hit her canvas un-intentionally, the final work shows thoughtfulness even in it’s restraint from being overworks, a skill few artists master. Yet the subject remains so clear and identifiable, that the accomplished plantsman can name the particular genus and species of the plant material used. Proof that Abbie herself is a consummate plants person as well.

The fact that this collection is neither fussy nor overworked, (just like Abbie herself), comes as no surprise to those of us who know and love her. They are just a composition of ‘a touch of this, a bit of that”, and then “enough, is enough”. Knowing Abbie, I can only guess that she has shared these works with very few of her dearest and closest friends and the many collectors from whom loaned their works for this exhibition. Not surprising, as Abbie is not one to create works simply to fill a gallery, or to get a museum exhibit – she creates work with the mind of an true artist – for no other reason than because she love doing it. Add in the fact that she is a talented gardener and plantsperson, only then can one begin to appreciate her influences and spirit in these works, in a strange way, they feel very personal, as if one is peering into her most personal diary, and I suppose, in many ways, these works are indeed just that – a period of time, a diary, sequential, and somewhat documentary in nature.

This exhibit is on display at the Wave Hill House until October 4th, so if you find yourself in the New York City area, it’s worth a trip up to the Bronx to see it, as well as then many gardens at Wave Hill.

A FEW OF ABBIE ZABAR’S PRECIOUS, PAINTINGS, SEASONAL, DETAILED AND JEWEL-LIKE, SPECIAL WHEN VIEWED SEQUENTIALLY, AS A SERIES OVER TIME.
THE ALPINE HOUSE AT WAVE HILL HAS REMOVABLE WINDOWS, SO THAT SUMMER RAINS CAN REACH SOME PLANTS. ALPINE HOUSES IN NORTH AMERICA ARE RARE, AS MOST DEMAND COOL, BUOYANT CLIMATES SUCH AS THAT FOUND IN THE UNITED KINGDOM. ONE THE LEFT, STONE TROUGHS HOUSE COLLECTIONS OF ALPINE TROUGH PLANTS.
VIEW OF AN ALPINE TROUGH WITH VARIOUS RARE BUN PLANTS, THOSE FROM THE HIGHEST OF ELEVATIONS. MOUNTAIN-TOP PLANTS THAT TODAY, DON”T RECEIVE THE ATTENTION THEY ONCE DID IN THE EARLY 20th CENTURY.

I found it interesting that Abbie Zabar exhibiting her tiny paintings at Wave Hill in June is rather ideal given the plant life, season and light, as Abbie in not only an active member of the North American Rock Garden Society, her rooftop garden in New York City also has many troughs and alpines. After the opening, Joe, Jess Rosenkranz and I spent a couple of hours touring the garden. Here are some images of the infamous alpine house and alpine troughs at Wave Hill.

A collection of alpine troughs well displayed at Wave Hill.
Helichrysum sessiloides grows here in an open trough. An iconic high elevation alpine, with tight growth so dense that it appears as if it is a rock – this plant demands brilliant, hot and dry sunshine. It’s flowers are papery and white too, (for a daisy!). Amazing.
Another Helichrysum , this one H. retortum grows in the hot and dry protection of the sand bed in the alpine house. It’s flowers are just as papery as any strawflower.
Sisyrinchium biscutella – a ‘blue’-eyed grass which is….well…biscuit-eyed, I guess. Contacts for flowers?
A small potted tree sits in the window of the alpine house. I loved the colors in this shot.
Pitcher Plants bloom ( and New York City is in the distance, just over the Hudson River).
Oh Turkey, your politics might be screwed up, but your alpine plants rock – I mean, how many grey flowers do you grow? Mathiola trojana is great in troughs and stony, sandy containers that are fast draining.. I just added it to my collection a couple of months ago. ( did I mention that it is also night fragrant!). You can get one here.
Any alpine that forms a dense, hard bun is gold to a rock gardener. Be it a Dianthus alpinus, one of the Minuartia ( or Arenaria species which I think this is) or even a Gypsophylla – which all form hard, tight buns, (and who doesn’t want that?).
The sand bed in the alpine house still housed many treasures.
Love this pot of blooming Triteleia laxa – I could not reach the label, but it may be the variety ‘Rudy’
And just when I was about to give up of growing the ground orchid Bletilla striata as it seems to not winter over for us here, I find these specimens thriving in pots on the shady side of the alpine house. Watch out for these on this blog next year – I can finally try this method which should work out well for me.
Abbie, in white, relaxes a bit at the end of the day. There is always time to go see some plants!

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