When I was a kid, my family always spent a week camping in Rhode Island. We spent many days at the beach, but we also spent time at Beavertail State Park in Jamestown. My parents loved to sit and watch the waves crashing over the rocks and the ships in the bay. My favorite part of being at Beavertail was examining the many tide pools that dotted the rocks when the tide was out. I imagined that I was a marine biologist, studying the seaweed and mollusks that braved the harsh conditions of these rocky oases.
I was reminded of these tide pools last week when a friend and I visited the Yale Center for British Art to see “‘Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower’: Artists’ Books and the Natural World,” an exhibit which celebrates the work of “self-taught naturalists and artists [who] recorded and observed the natural world around them from the sixteenth century to the present.” The variety of artistic responses and creativity on display was stunning. In addition to traditional sketches and watercolors, there were collages, works of cut paper, dioramas, and mixed media.
I found this collage of sea weed specimens especially charming. Apparently creating this kind of sea weed collage was a popular activity in the 19th century, and E.L. Aveline’s poem, “Flowers of the Ocean, often accompanies such pieces. The poem appeared in The Mother’s Fables, in Verse, Designed, Through the Medium of Amusement, to Convey to the Minds of Children Some Useful Precepts of Virtute and Benevolence in 1812. The title page of this volume urges readers to “Find tongues in trees, books in running brooks/Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.” Not bad advice, and the artwork in this exhibit demonstrates that many people followed it faithfully.
Flowers of the Ocean
Call us not weeds—we are flowers of the sea;
For lovely, and bright, and gay-tinted are we,
Our blush is as deep as the rose of thy bowers;
Then call us not weeds—we are Ocean’s gay flowers.
Not nursed like the plants of a summer parterre,
When gales are but sighs of an evening air;
Our exquisite, fragile, and delicate forms
Are nursed by the ocean, and rocked by its storms.
by E.L. Aveline
“Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower” is on display until August 10. If you’re near New Haven, it’s worth the trip. Please be sure to visit Janet and Sylvia at Poetry for Children for the Poetry Friday Roundup.