Sunday- travelling away from Pittsburgh

Sunday- departing Pittsburgh

Last night before writing the blog, we packed. Therefore early-ish this morning we left the hotel. We decided to get on our way as there were going to be other ‘home-coming’ events including a marathon in Pittsburgh. We met a load of departing botanical artists and one or two tagging-along husbands, boarding a shuttle to the airport. There were one or two tagging-along wives at the event too, so I don’t want to appear discriminatory!

Unfortunately we were slightly late (By seconds), so didn’t get away in time to drive our planned route before it was closed off. We therefore found our way around the back Streets of Pittsburgh to get away from the university area where most of the things were going on. It feels a little like being a peeping Tom when going through really shabby and run down areas. I could certainly understand why the botanic gardens wanted to get children from poor backgrounds to learn about growing things in their own neighbourhoods. Introducing something like that might encourage them out of areas similar to what we saw and help them to integrate out into the world.

We eventually got out of the city and were so glad that the couple to whom we had offered a lift to the airport had refused. I don’t think we could have made it in time for their flight and would have made their situation worse. I hope they read this and did make their flight.

After about a comfortable hour’s drive, we stopped off to have some breakfast. There was also a shop nearby, with delicatessen etc. we decided to be very sensible (for lunch), and buy a salad, apples – and cashews!!! Then we went into the diner next door and had an American style breakfast. Not pancakes as we had those last week and vowed not to have them again. They were huge, thick and doughy. No, this time we had 3 eggs, bacon fried to a crisp, hashed potatoes and toast – each! We had as much coffee as we wanted and were asked if we wanted to take some with us – free of charge. You don’t see that in England, although I suppose we should have restricted the size of the breakfast. It was worse than a full English breakfast calorie-wise.

We drove north towards Eirie and then turned right across the top of Pensylvania along Route 6. This is off the main highway so we drove through towns and villages seeing some lovely countryside. We seemed to climb steadily and as we did so the trees got more yellow and red. It remained sunny and warm so we were able to really enjoy the journey ( listening to an un-abridged exciting book via the CD player).

At lunchtime, we found a lovely area by the side of a river to eat our lunch. It was really spoilt by tiny, biting insects. But my husband did see his first, second and third chipmunk. We beat a hasty retreat and continued our evermore colourful journey. At one point which was quite high, the red was really impressive.



Now we are in a motel in a place called Wellsboro. It is near an area they call the Pennsylvania Grand Canon. Unfortunately it is quite shallow where we are, so doesn’t give the impression of Grand Canyon – at least here. The motel is meant to have Internet, but I think you have to catch it as it flies past. I haven’t been quick enough yet, so I am writing this in a word processing application and will copy and paste if I get the chance. This blog is our travel diary.






Last day in Pittsburgh

The last day of the conference with the ASBA. It is sad. I have made a lot of new friends here from all over America, Canada, the UK, Australia and South Africa. There has been such a wealth of experience here that I am tingling.

As I have been so involved with the Hunt Exhibition, I have only been able to dip in and out of the ASBA conference. But today I went to the lectures. Unfortunately, I have been unable to go on any of the workshops, but I am happy having had the opportunity to talk to so many people.

First thing this morning there was a lecture from people from the Phipps Botanic gardens. The talk was about how they are trying to bring knowledge of plants to the people. Three of the scientists gave us a small glimpse of their everyday. It was about bringing knowledge of the environment to young people who are unlikely to even get to see a big park or open space.

For example, growing veg in window boxes as they don’t have gardens. Or, how the bugs they see in between paving stones are affected by chemicals in the environment and by the vegetation growing there, however minute. We also heard about research into the impact of chemicals on fertilisation and then the bugs and bees that carry out the fertilisation process. There are plants that can remove chemicals from the soil and, then in turn the chemicals can be extracted from those plants (phytoremediation). But as everything is in an environment depending upon each other, they have to check that curbing problems in one area doesn’t create problems in another.

The last person we heard from was trying to find a cure for Parkinson’s. This involved talking to people where it is common to find plants are used as treatment and then researching the properties of those plants. Many cures for cancer have been found in this way, such as Yew for breast cancer and the early treatments of cancer with moss growing in the mountains in Norway.

My husband sneaked in on this lecture and then spent the rest of the day at the Botanical gardens.

One of the final statements was that Botany is dying. But we have only ourselves to blame for that. Apparently in ordinary biology books, one will see a picture of an insect on some plant material. The discussion about the picture is most likely to only be about the insect and not the plant or perhaps the dependence each has upon the other. Important topics.

Pictures my husband took:



Another lecture we had was about How to start a Florilegium. We were lucky to have four people who had been responsible for co-ordinating projects. These included the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Florilegium, the Eloise Butler Wildflower garden Florilegium in Minneapolis, the Filoli and Alcatraz Florilegiums and the Highgrove Florilegium. It is quite a job managing such important bodies of work.

I’m afraid I have no photos showing any of these Florilegia!

The last lecture I went to was with Lugene Bruno, the Curator at the Hunt. The topic was ‘Beyond Accuracy’. She was talking about the art behind the botany. It was a very interesting and encouraging talk. It also inspired some ‘warm’ discussions. What is the difference between Botanical art and Illustration. Also, how much leeway is given before it becomes Flower painting. However, there was agreement that there was room for all disciplines in appropriate circumstances.

Tonight we had the hidden bid. It is a very good way to raise money within the ASBA for projects within the organisation. Some lovely donations were made by the artists and it obviously created a lot of excitement.

To complete the days, we had a lovely dinner before going our separate ways for a while.

Before I finish off today, you may remember I me tensioned the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh. This is a picture My husband took from the inside. Remember, it was built for the purpose of housing the University of Pittsburgh and for no other reason.


Friday in Pittsburgh

I don’t really know what ‘Homecoming’ means in the American University town environment, but I am sure the city put all this entertainment on just for us!

Today has been – what can I say – spectacular.

Last night I wrote to each of the other three Society of Botanical artists (SBA) (the UK version of the American one – ASBA), who had their paintings accepted at the Hunt this year. I sent each one a photo of their work hanging in situ. I have also asked if I can include their pictures and names on this blog. I have to admit, not all replied to my last request, so I have jumped the gun a little. But, their work is now in a prestigious place for all to see. Before I mention their names and show their pictures, I have a comment.

The Hunt have their international exhibition every three years only and, about 41 artists have work selected. To have four of us from the same organisation have our work selected, says something positive about the organisation. I know that the SBA has done a lot towards my development as a botanical artist.

The other three are:
Charlotte Linder


Gael Sellwood


Roberta Mattioli



You have already seen my work in yesterday’s blog.

But, talking about prestigious, we were allowed a special viewing of pictures we wanted to see from the Hunt collection. First and foremost is the fact that our pictures are in the same collection as Rory McEwen! I can’t believe that. I saw two of his works – without glass between the picture and me. His work is perfect. I also saw work by Ehret, Redoute and several other fantastic artists.i was also amazed at the number of paintings on vellum. I think that the pressure I have got from friends here, means that I now have to bite the bullet and try using it.

I will stop going on about all the pictures I saw as I might bore everyone else to tears. It was a huge highlight though, and I feel as though I am floating with the excitement of it.

This afternoon was the talk given by five of the artists whose pictures were accepted. I was one of the five. It wasn’t bad at all as everyone was so interested. It was incredible to see that each of us had a singularity of purpose towards our botanical art and that some of us had fairly similar habits. Although there was a lot that divided us. At least my husband now knows that I am not unusually weird – it goes with the territory!


I was at a talk this evening, but as it ran late and I had a prior appointment, I had to leave early at 19:30. We again met my friend from nursing school and went out for a lovely meal. She explained to us a little about how food is ordered and shared out in America. It made much more sense. We had tried to eat two different things the night before, leaving a lot of it and still feeling too stuffed.

Towards the end of the meal, there were some huge explosions. We knew that something had been going on outside as there seemed to be a lot of prep for some festivities and loads of students were out and about. Everyone rushed out ( the waitresses didn’t try and get us back in as we hadn’t paid our.bill yet), and we watched an incredible (a lot) fireworks display. Most of it came from one side of the campus with short breaks allowing short,sharp bursts from the opposite direction. The sharp bursts were directed up the side of the Cathedral for Learning. This is an impressive building looming very high upwards. It looks like a cathedral but seemed never to have been intended for other than learning. The fireworks lasted over 30 mins and I am not exaggerating. They could be felt reverberating through you.

After they had finished we went back into the restaurant to pay the bill. At no time had the waitress come out after us. Very trusting.

We had a lovely time with my friend and I thanked her for putting on such a display for us!

To finish off. On the way back to the hotel, we saw a ‘sight’ crossing the road. There must have been about 30 pairs of legs crossing the road. They were LEGS. The type that stretch from ground to armpit – on hiiiiiigh heels. I have to say that I gawped as well as my husband. They were an impressive sight. Sorry, no pictures!

Thursday in Pittsburgh

A busy and exciting day. This is the first full day of the ASBA annual conference and the opening of the Hunt’s 14th International Exhibition of botanical art and illustration.

This morning started off with a Portfolio session where many members lay out their work for query, comment and I suppose critique. There was a huge variety of styles and it was very interesting. Many had done their work on vellum, but there were other techniques too. I was encouraged to try vellum although it is extremely expensive. Also suggested that I use the sort available in the UK as this is the best.

I am told that the latest ASBA magazine has a very good article on how to paint on vellum. For people out there who paint botanically, I recommend that you join this organisation. Membership has quite few benefits.

I saw some beautiful silver point work, and some very good pen and ink work. I wish I could describe some of it as it is obviously a new technique to try and learn. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures.

Towards the end of the Portfolio session I went to a talk on the history of Vellum. Unfortunately, it was more a history of the family who produced Vellum in the US. Parts of it definitely were interesting, but I feel that I know little more now than I did before I went into the talk.

We had a long lunch combined with AGM.

The afternoon was filled with a techniques showcase. Three different artists with three different techniques and materials demonstrated for us. The topics were Graphite, watercolour and coloured pencil. They were very good. Although other workshops were going on at the same time, the auditorium was pretty well full of interested artists.



Then the opening of the Hunt Exhibition. Several school buses picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the Hunt. We went to the top floor (walked!), where we were greeted with nibbles and punch. A friend of mine who started nursing at the same time as me 50 years ago in Set 231, now lives in Pittsburgh. She came to hep celebrate with her was lovely having them there too.

All the pictures were hung in a large room and some speeches were made to open the exhibition. Unfortunately I can’t repeat what was said as you couldn’t hear. But a good time was had by all, even when the fire alarm evacuated the building.

We were turfed out into the balmy evening air, but it didn’t deter any conversation.



Wednesday – In Pittsburgh

We spent a good night at Bloomsburg, found out that there was going to be a very big fair in the town, so decided to retrace our way back to the interstate highway 80.

There was low mist in the valley (and rather chilly), but this cleared up immediately we got up onto the freeway which was a little higher. The road took us higher and higher as the vegetation became richer in colour. The sky was almost cloudless except for some wispy clouds floating way above us.

Did you know that here the ivy climbing the trees is obviously not the same sort as in the UK? Although I haven’t studied it in detail it seems to be deciduous as it coats the tree trunks in bright red leaves. It makes a difference to the overall impression of red-trunked trees to the green ones we have at home.

Again, the pictures on my iPad don’t quite convey the majesty and colourfulness of it all as we zip by in the car, hopefully we will have better pictures to show later.


We stopped off at one point for a coffee. Driving into the little town, it looked really beautiful and inviting on the outskirts. We parked and decided to stretch our legs by walking a couple of blocks in the centre. It all seemed dead. Loads of shops completely empty and only a handful that had the slightest thing going on at all. The houses were generally in a state of disrepair. We didn’t see too many people, but they seemed happy enough. Life was obviously giving them a hard time.

We drove over the Bald Eagle Mountains before starting our descent into greener territory. The landscape was still impressive, but without the sudden glimpses of rich colour.

Traffic here is generally much slower here and the flow seems much more organised. Less dashing about (seemingly) and it is rare for anyone to sit on your tail. The exception are trucks. They zoom along at an incredible speed, faster than the speed limit and faster even than they are allowed on British roads. As my husband pointed out, diesel is much cheaper in the US. If they had paid the same rate as in Europe, they certainly wouldn’t have even considered driving at these speeds as it would cost too much!

Lunch was in a Diner. It looked just like the ones you see in films. In fact this is a little glimpse. My husband is sitting there as the partial subject.


We arrived in Pittsburgh and without a detailed map or working SatNav, we got lost immediately. We drove over a bridge we shouldn’t have, drove around to get back and got even more lost. In the end we stopped asked the way. A sweet gentleman in a store gave us clear directions and we eventually got here safely.

We have been duly registered, watered and fed. I have had my first Margareta since being here and enjoyed it hugely. We have already met the two girls who were on the Sarah Simblet course with me, plus two American artists who won RHS medals at the same time as I did. It’s good to know one isn’t a complete stranger.

In reading my paperwork more carefully from the Hunt, I think I will need to be just a little more prepared for my talk on Friday. But tomorrow the fun begins.

Tuesday on the way to Pittsburgh

We were so sorry to leave our lovely hosts near New Bedford. They have been so generous in inviting us to stay and then to show us round. We will miss them.

We started out on our long drive to Pittsburgh when the sun was shining again from a crystal clear blue sky. It was very chilly, but felt beautifully fresh. The trees obviously felt the same. They had changed noticeably from the previous day. We had noticed patches of gold and rich red appearing, but today some of the trees appeared to be on fire. So beautiful.

We travelled along the coast for quite a while before turning away to avoid New York. I’m sorry, Americans who read this blog, but I’m not very much of a city girl and you have so much to see in your huge country. We didn’t really want to spend all the time looking at your fantastic architecture, museums and art galleries. Hopefully, we will have the rest of our lives to get a bit in here and there. This time it is to be Pittsburgh and your beautiful changing season.

Our journey departed the coast at Newhaven and we drove up to join the 84. That was a really beautiful run along the banks of a river. It made such a change to the a Freeway. But once we got back onto the 84 we stayed on it (except for one or two stops) until we got to Scranton. We crossed well known rivers with names such as the Falls River, the Hudson and the Delaware. To me just those names sound exciting.

All the time we were seeing broad vistas of forest, hills, mountains and ever changing colours. In some areas the reds were so intense. One tree I saw looked as though the sun was emerging from the tree itself. Just the flash of it as we passed gave me the impression of lime green leaves at its centre, changing to gold and bright red to towards its extremities. Amazing.

The temperature was crisp a lot of the way, but during the afternoon it warmed up a little.

Once we reached Scranton we decided to go ‘off list’ again, this time following the 11 down. Sorry, I realise I haven’t said whether the roads are interstate or what they are. I have just map read numbers – note, we aren’t using SatNav! This road brought us down different types of town, suburb and country road. It was quite interesting. But by now we were gently looking for somewhere to stay. We eventually found it just outside Bloomsburg. We arrived in time for supper, but my poor husband is now exhaustingly fast asleep in bed. He has driven all the way and is now out like a light. I hope he won’t be too exhausted to enjoy his freedom in Pittsburgh whilst I am otherwise engaged.

I hope that I have taken a few good enough pictures with my iPad to add to this blog.



Although nice pictures, I’m afraid they don’t quite convey what we saw. Hopefully once I am able to download pictures from my camera, these will be better.

Monday in the US

In contrast to yesterday, the sky was clear blue when we woke. The sea was a beautiful clear blue and the boats bobbed glistening white on the water.

Today we were in for a treat. We were taken to the New Bedford Art Museum where earlier this year I had said no to a solo exhibition. It is a lovely museum with a good exhibition going on at the moment. We were lucky enough to be given an exclusive tour of the exhibition by a lady who certainly knew her stuff. I understand that they are going through some changes and in the future will be increasing their ability to teach about art too. I liked in particular how they displayed work there as it was not on standard white walls, but painted in a way that showed off the artwork well.

After this we went to the Library and were shown original prints from the Audubon collection which they have there. The Curator there was extremely knowledgeable and gave us a lot of information about Audubon’s work and, in particular about each picture. He painted al the birds himself except for one, which his son painted. However, the backgrounds were often painted by ‘interns’. It seems that Audubon painted the original watercolours (some of which are now on display in Boston). They were sent to a printer in England who had plates etched, printed enough copies to send to every sponsor and then each print was hand painted by an unknown watercolourist. Audubon did not do any of this work himself, but did check it all out. All very inspiring.

For lunch we had delicious hamburgers. I had thought of being good but couldn’t resist.

To complete the day in this part of the world, we drove to Mattapoisett a lovely village leading out towards Cape Cod. The style of houses were very specific to Cape Cod, very functional and built from available materials. The design was done to maximise on light, keep the house cool in summer and prevent the snow weighing down the roofs in winter.

I wish I had the photos on my iPad, but I’m afraid they are in my camera!

In the morning we will be starting the next stage of our journey to Pittsburgh.

Sunday in the US

Writing this I feel very tired. I think the jet lag is catching up with me.

I woke up about 11:00 UK time – which was about 04:00 here, but got up a couple of hours later. There were dark thundery clouds outside and as I went to take picture, lightening flashed across the sky. What a welcome.


We went to church in New Bedford, then returned home for a pancake breakfast. Delicious! Whilst the weather began to clear, we went around our host’a garden which is incredibly well arranged. It goes right down to the sea where two Plovers were taking their Sunday morning stroll.

After lunch our hosts had planned a trip to Rhode Island to visit the lovely Blithe wold mansion and gardens. It is a lovely garden and this is worthwhile visit. Unfortunately we could only spend a short time as some friends had been invited to summer.

The evening was very interesting and the time went too quickly discussing the BlythWold garden.



Arrival in USA today (or yesterday)

What an eventful day, it is now 23:24 USA time and 04:24 UK time.

We got up early, took an early train to Gatwick because of work on the line, then sat on the plane for over an hour because of IT problems in Ireland. We thought we would miss the connection in Dublin, but after running through immigration with another couple, we just got to the delayed connection in time.

Once we arrived in Boston, we hired a car and drove down to our friends in Mattapoisett. They live on the waters edge, but unfortunately we will have to wait until the morning to actually see the area.

We have been made most welcome, were fed and watered deliciously when a suggestion was made to go swimming before we went to bed. They have a pool , but I had not come prepared – no costume! That didn’t matter. Lights were turned off and we had a refreshing (grhhhhh) swim. Once I the wimp got in, it was fantastic and the water was perfect.

I will now sleep well.