Sisterhood of Flora
A couple of years ago I read about the seed packages at Hudson Valley Seed Library designed by a number of local artists. I visited the site at once, and it was there that I first saw Sheryl Humphrey’s work, on an Art Pack design for Rainbow Chard. I was wowed. I remember happily whiling away a good part of an hour immersed in the library’s work and their heirloom seeds.
Today I’m honored to share a few of her paintings and what she has to say about her gardening/art connection.
I started gardening after I got married, and for three decades my husband and I have nurtured small urban oases in our yards in Brooklyn and now Staten Island. Learning about the plants, caring for them, and being able to appreciate their beauty and discover their structures on a daily basis was a life-changing process for me. My relationship to Nature became strongly spiritual. Nature themes began to appear in my artwork, in tandem with a looking inward.
“The Sisterhood of Flora” is my ongoing series of small-scale oil paintings, depicting girls’ and women’s faces surrounded by blossoms, fruits, or vegetables. These faces appear to me as I admire and cultivate the plants I am tending. Their mysteriously compelling gazes have an otherworldly aspect, and the invented portraits can be seen as the flowers’ guardians or spirits.
As an artist I really enjoy the challenge of combining the observation of botanical still life with a fantasy portrait in a stylistically unified painting. I have been influenced by painters of the early Italian Renaissance, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Symbolists, Art Nouveau, the Magic Realists, and many visionary, psychedelic, and outsider artists.
I read a lot about herbalism, alchemy, folklore, and mythology, finding subjects for my art there. This same research led me to write The Haunted Garden: Death and Transfiguration in the Folklore of Plants, a small collection of old botanical myths and legends – strange tales of people changing into plants. And my essay “Faun and Flora: A Garden for the Goat-God Pan” is included in a recent anthology, Soliloquy for Pan, edited by Mark Beech (Egaeus Press, 2015). That book sold out its beautiful hardcover limited first edition, but with luck there may be a paperback edition in the future.
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Sheryl Humphrey is a painter living and working in Staten Island, New York. She received her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, and earned her MFA at Brooklyn College in 1998. Her work has been exhibited extensively in New York and across the country. Paintings by Ms. Humphrey are included in many public, private, and corporate collections, including the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center in Brooklyn. You can see “The Sisterhood of Flora” and other works at her website.