Ron Wolanin calls me on May 20 from High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary in Shelburne. The yellow lady’s slippers are in full bloom, and Ron warns me not to wait too long if I want to work with them. I decide to make the trip out to Shelburne the next day, and arrive at High Ledges by 9 a.m.
Patten Road is bucolic and scenic, with pastures and farms tucked between the leafy woodlots. With Ron’s directions jotted on a scrap of paper tucked in my pocket, I head up to the ledges to find the flowers. At the ledges and the old Barnard homesite (i.e. “the chimney”), I can look down on Shelburne Falls and the Deerfield River. Overhead a blackburnian warbler sings from one of the red pines.
Proceeding down the trail, I locate the flowers, right where Ron said they would be. Eight blossoms are scattered across a small area of the forest floor, in little groups of two or three plants.
Although I have seen these flowers in botanic and private gardens, this is the first time I’ve seen them in the wild, and they take my breath away! To see them in their native forest haunts brings out their true character. First, I get right to work on a straight-forward depiction of a pair of plants. I decide to paint the plants without a background –more like a botanical illustration.
The only change I decide to make is to show the two blossoms facing each other, and I do this by substituting a blossom from a nearby plant for the left-hand blossom in my picture. While I work a raven croaks overhead and I’m serenaded by a hermit thrush and a yellow-throated vireo.
This is truly a special place for wildflowers – growing nearby are miterwort, hepatica, pink lady’s slipper, azaleas, columbine, star flower and others. As I near completion of my watercolor, I decide to start another focusing on just the blossoms. I start a drawing from a different cluster of plants, showing one blossom from the back and one from the front.
The structure of the blossoms is intricate, and the drawing must be done with great care to capture the right shapes and proportions. I put this drawing in my pack to finish in the studio, since I want time to explore more of the sanctuary. (Later, after I’d finished this watercolor, my wife Lisa said it looks like two ladies having a conversation, so I name it “Slipper Talk”).
stay tuned for High Ledges part 2…