Tag Archives: La Brea Tar Pits

postscript to Natural Discourse; Flora & Fauna

It’s been such a pleasure to see what shape and expression each successive Natural Discourse has taken. Developed by Shirley Watts and Mary Anne Friel for the Berkeley Botanic Garden, a group of artists were invited to make site-specific work for the garden and then give talks about that work. (‘Natural Discourse: Artists, Architects, Scientists & Poets in the Garden.’) Shirley Watts has continued this series of talks and brought it to other venues and arboreta. I’ve loved them all.

Shirley’s household as a child blended both art and science, with parents working in music and medicine.
As a result, she effortlessly moves between the two worlds and finds the intricate linkages between both, the overlap where science and art inform and enrich each other.
Working in gardens, we know how much science is involved in making that perfect moment on a warm June day.
Boundless romantic longing moderated by keen observation are what makes our gardens cause visitors to shrug, “Oh, you can grow anything. You have such a green thumb.”
Artists and scientists are both filled with longing for their subjects, and both rely on thumbs and brains in their work.
Shirley doesn’t feel the need to segregate them into separate symposia, recognizing the contributions each make to the other.

The physical collections of herbaria and natural history museums were a theme of this year’s Natural Discourse.
To talk about these collections, you need to bring in explorers, adventurers, disaster, hubris, lack of funding, lost collections, redemption. All the really juicy stuff.
And the specimen of Liatris punctata collected by Custer two years before Little Big Horn with his handwritten tag that was nearly thrown in the trash.
As always, it was a great time.


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Shirley Watts on opening night at the La Brea Tar Pits

Continue reading postscript to Natural Discourse; Flora & Fauna

Friday clippings 8/22/14


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At first sight I became enthralled by artist James Griffith’s exquisite, painterly ripostes to the “drill, baby, drill” set — my words, not his. James is much more polite.
By way of a secret alchemy, he utilizes that precious resource from our local La Brea Tar Pits in a uniquely subversive fashion, to cover canvases with delicate, etching-like portraits of species that don’t get a say in our energy politics, such as the humble and familiar crow, bat, mouse, and deer. His work reminds that all species are stuck in this moment together. I love my little tar bat that was last year’s Christmas present.

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James has a new show beginning September 6, 2014, at the Craig Krull Gallery at Bergamot Station, where you can see the latest members of his tar pit menagerie.

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James is also co-creator with garden designer Sue Dadd of the Folly Bowl, their own personal outdoor amphitheater in which they host a summer-long series of concerts. This coming Saturday’s concert, August 23rd, is described on their Facebook page for The Folly Bowl. If you go, keep an eye out for one of the biggest Agave franzosinii south of the Ruth Bancroft Garden.

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Drawing from the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Plants at Harvard. Collection manager Jenny Brown and glass artist Christian Thornton will be two of the lecturers at Natural Discourse this October 18, 2014.

Another date to save: On October 18, 2014, impresario, artist, and garden designer Shirley Watts, is bringing Natural Discourse: Light & Image to the Los Angeles County Arboretum, which promises to be another amazing day of riveting lectures, this time here in our very own backyard. Shirley assembles together for one day the equivalent of a botanical salon filled with some of the most interesting speakers I’ve been privileged to hear. I wrote about them here and here and here — you can do a blog search for other posts too. Richard Turner, former editor of Pacific Horticulture, had this to say of earlier iterations of Natural Discourse:

The first symposia, held at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, were among the very best days I’ve ever spent sitting and listening to others speak.

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The Ruth Bancroft Garden by Marion Brenner, who will be one of the lecturers at Natural Discourse October 18th, 2014, at Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

Garden bloggers in particular won’t want to miss a single pearl of wisdom that falls from legendary landscape photographer Marion Brenner’s lips at this upcoming Natural Discourse: Light & Image.

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Sansevieria ‘Black Gold’ at California Greenhouses

If anyone is tempted to visit the Orange County nurseries I mentioned here, I hope I caught you before you made the trip. You must add to your itinerary California Greenhouses.
Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of Potted, recommended this one to me, and I checked it out earlier this week. It is worth the trip alone.

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Some nurseries, like sports teams, have a “deep bench,” and California Nurseries has one of the deepest around.
Succulents in all sizes, from enormous dragon trees, tree aloes, and Yucca rostrata, to table after table of all the wee ones we love to stuff in pots, and at nearly wholesale prices.
Fantastic section of houseplants too.

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California Greenhouses currently has a couple enormous Aloe capitata var. quartzicola for sale, at least 3-gallon size if not 5.
More than double the size of this Aloe capitata var. quartzicola, photo taken in my garden this June.

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Department of Corrections: This is one of the so-called shrub begonias ‘Paul Hernandez,’ and it’s managed to thrive despite my having the blackest thumb a begonia enthusiast can have. I wish Freud had wondered instead what a begonia wants, because I sure as heck don’t know. I’ve made some comments that reference this gunnera-sized begonia as ‘Gene Daniels,’ so I need to correct that. I don’t think I’ve ever grown ‘Gene Daniels,’ but two begonias named after guys — you can see how I made the mistake. Checking the blog, I see that ‘Paul Hernandez’ dates back to 2011 in my garden, the only begonia I’ve grown with that kind of longevity, so we need to keep his identity straight. Good plants need to be rewarded; the next big pot I buy is going to be for Paul. Judging by the mottled color, I think Paul looks a little hungry. Maybe some fish emulsion?

I’ll close with my favorite quote of the week: “‘At the end of the day,’ Dr. Richard wrote in his diary this summer, ‘the plants are still in need of a drink, and so are we.’”

At least I have that in common with the energetic couple restoring a 250-year-old house in southwest France. There were a couple more epigrammatic, Wilde-worthy quotes in The New York Times article and luscious slideshow, “A Blank Slate With Fig Trees,” including success with houseguests requires “to never see them over breakfast.”

Happy weekend!


Filming James Griffith’s Tar Paintings

I just voted for tar, and I know you want to as well, which is why I’m making it easy. Click, click here and it’s done.

Your reward? Should James win the vote, our reward is getting the full story of the genesis of the tar paintings in a short documentary to be made by the Los Angeles public television station KCET. (And maybe we can twist James’ arm for an invite for all of us to their summer concert series held at the Folly Bowl. I forget how many it holds.)

Five years ago artist James Griffith uncovered the answer to a mystery at the La Brea Tar Pits that we’ve all pondered since schoolchildren visits to the site — just how exciting are the social lives of paleontologists working among the saber-toothed tiger bones on Wilshire Boulevard? And the answer turns out to be not very. Lonely and isolated in their workspace beneath the auto-infested environs of Wilshire Boulevard where it intersects the Tar Pits, these hard-working scientists responded to a knock on their lab door and an improbable request for a bucket of tar with surprising alacrity. Aside from being starved for human interaction, that’s also due to the fact that the request was made by James Griffith, who could charm a mastodon out of its tusks. As interested in science as art, James instantly made co-conspirators of the scientists in his new project, his “tar” paintings, which I’ve posted about before here and here.

“”When I thought of tar as a material, I loved it because on one hand it is this primordial goo. At the same time, it’s at the heart of the whole environmental problem. It has a contemporary quality and but also an incredibly ancient timeline quality. I just love that.”

The search for the proper fixatives, the furtive trips back to the scientists’ lair for more tar, the first paintings taking form and clinging to the canvas, I’d love to see this story and work filmed. This tar artist needs your vote now. Voting closes Monday, April 29, 2013.


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Did I mention you can vote here? Click, click…(vote for tar — pass it on!)

James Griffith; Natural Selection/Offramp Gallery 11/18/12

Offramp Gallery – November 18 – December 23, 2012
Opening Reception: Sunday, November 18, 2-5pm
Closing Reception & Holiday Party: Sunday, December 23, 2-5pm
1702 Lincoln Avenue | Pasadena, CA 91103 | 626-298-6931


Artists Sue Dadd and James Griffith seem to invariably have both their names spoken in the same breath.


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Bagging some glass mulch at Building Resources in San Francisco.

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It’s only natural, since they are an exceedingly charming couple.
But their extraordinary achievement, the amphitheater they created and named the “Folly Bowl,” might also be partially responsible for this reflexive joining of their names.

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Continue reading James Griffith; Natural Selection/Offramp Gallery 11/18/12