Tribune Print Share Text

‘Flora of the National Parks’

Riderwood artist’s painting part of D.C. exhibit

Created date

December 13th, 2016
Judy Brown, Riderwood resident and botanical artist, recently had one of her watercolor paintings on display at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.

Judy Brown, Riderwood resident and botanical artist, recently had one of her watercolor paintings on display at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.

For most of 2016, Riderwood resident Judy Brown had one of her paintings on display at the United States Botanic Garden on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. 

Judy’s painting of a rare chocolate lily found in Alaska’s Denali National Park was selected from among submissions by hundreds of artists. It was part of an exhibit called “Flora of the National Parks,” which featured about 80 illustrations, paintings, photographs, and other art forms celebrating the diverse plant life in America’s national parks, in honor of the National Park Service’s centennial. 

“It was a very big deal, and I was so excited about it,” Judy says. 

In the nick of time

Judy’s painting must have been meant to be in the Botanic Garden exhibit; she finished it just minutes before the submission deadline. 

Her husband Ray had been ill and in the hospital at the time. Judy returned home from visiting him at 10:30 p.m. on the night submissions were due—at midnight. Something inside her told her to just sit down and finish the painting.

“I got it done two minutes before midnight, so for me, it was also about not giving up,” Judy says. 

In college, Judy studied botany. She went on to work in molecular biology, teaching at the university level, consulting and working on staff at both the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Maryland Center for Marine Biology. 

Although she no longer works full time, Judy is still active in her field. She currently works as a consultant to help the National Arboretum develop programs that will help people understand stream ecology and the role plants play in the health of streams. 

Melding botany and art

While she was always an avid gardener, it wasn’t until after she retired from full-time work that Judy discovered botanical art. She was volunteering at Brookside Gardens, and a course in botanical art piqued her interest. She enrolled.

“I never had time to do art because I was always busy working in labs,” Judy says. “But in that class, I just fell in love with [botanical art] and have been doing it for years now.”

Botanical art, Judy explains, is different from floral painting, which focuses only on the look of plants. Botanical artists, by contrast, honor the botany of a plant, but do it in an artistic way.

Almost four years ago, Judy and Ray decided to move to Riderwood, the Erickson Living community in Silver, Spring, Md. They no longer wanted the burden of maintaining a large house and were motivated by some health concerns to make the move. 

“We always knew we were coming to Riderwood, and it was just a matter of when,” Judy says. 

Since moving to Riderwood, Judy has had the opportunity to introduce her neighbors to botanical art. She teaches courses on the subject through Riderwood’s lifelong learning program in partnership with Prince George’s Community College. The program, called SAGE, stands for Seasoned Adults Growing Educationally. 

So far, Judy has taught the class six times. She says creating botanical art is particularly beneficial for older adults who want to keep their minds sharp because it improves one’s power of observation. 

“Botanical artists seek to really understand the underlying colors of a plant, so you have to look at it and then look again and again—it’s sort of aerobics for observational skills,” Judy says, “When people start doing botanical art, they will say things like, ‘I never really noticed the pansies, but now I see all colors in them.’”

Beauty all around

When Judy’s not busy making or teaching botanical art, she and Ray enjoy visiting national parks. So far, they’ve been to 34 of the 413 national parks in the U.S. 

Judy plays the cello, and she is part of Riderwood’s Music with Friends club, a group of violinists, cellists, and a viola player that gathers weekly to play chamber music. 

Judy volunteers with Montgomery County Hospice and also visits residents who are ill or recovering at Riderwood’s continuing care neighborhood. She is a member of Riderwood’s Performing Arts Council and also enjoys being a student in the on-site continuous learning classes. In the fall, she took a wine-tasting course. 

A long-time gardener, Judy didn’t have to give up her hobby when she moved to Riderwood. The community has land set aside for residents to grow flowers, herbs, fruit, and vegetables. Judy has a space in the resident garden area and grows plants on the patio right outside her own apartment home. 

“I brought some plants from my garden at my old house,” she says. “I’ve met a lot of avid gardeners here, and that is the nice thing about going down to work at the community garden—you meet a lot of interesting people there.”