"Flor de Mayo" Watercolors
Exhibited October, 2005

October's exhibit in our Visitor Center gallery offered a veritable Fall harvest of lovely botanical watercolors by Tucson artist and ethnobotanist Martha Ames Burgess. With a background in geology, dendrochronology (tree-ring dating), and environmental education, Burgess approaches watercolor with a scientist's drive for accuracy mixed in good measure with an adventurer's sense of freedom about her subject matter…and a teacher's wish to share. Burgess teaches ethnobotany workshops to share her knowledge of edible and medicinal desert plants, and how plants have been used by indigenous desert people for food, fiber and medicine.

Burgess volunteers time with Tucson-based Native Seeds/SEARCH, and a favorite theme of her art is Native farmers and conservation of ancient endangered crops. She is inspired by sculptural forms and colors of these rare plants, and her paintings capture moments of botanical, geological, and architectural beauty. Close friends know her by the nickname "Muffin" and others by her nom de plume "Flor de Mayo".

"A favorite subject for my paintings is ancient heirloom cultivars of the Southwest. For many years I have been multiplying out seeds of endangered SW crops for the seed conservation organization Native Seeds/SEARCH. In some cases there may only be a handful of these precious seeds available, passed down by Native American families or pioneer families from one generation to the next and given to Native Seeds/SEARCH for safekeeping. Seed banking cannot work forever for living things so we grow out the seeds to keep the irreplaceable genetic material alive and well, and to have seed to share with other gardeners via the Native Seeds/SEARCH catalog."

"When I grow out these incredibly venerable vegetables (corn, beans, squash, chiles, melons, etc.) I am always struck by their beauty, their desert survival, and their role in the life of ancient desert people. I feel such overwhelming honor for the plants and for the people who selected them and grew them over the centuries here in the Southwest. Their beauty and nutrition are so transient that I've been driven to express my respect by painting them at harvest, somehow capturing a reminder of their importance in the past and their continued potential for the future of desert agriculture and horticulture. I hope that the heirlooms in my artwork can be a pleasurable eye-opener for Arboretum visitors sharing a love of desert plants."

"Another area of interest to me is special geological landscapes, landmarks, and arches. Such places draw me to them and encourage me to express myself in painting."

" In order to share my work I have produced notecards and miniature matted prints. I now have available six cactus and wildflower images, five heirloom foods images, seven Southwest landscape images, and ten images of historic Tucson buildings."

"Carrying my love of desert plants into a more practical realm, I have created two herbal bath soaps, one made with heirloom lemon basil and the other with wild desert lavender, both using jojoba oil as a gift from the desert. I also produce refreshing hydrosol sprays of several different aromatic desert plants. These sprays are refreshing nutritive tonics for the skin--another way to rejoice in the diverse attributes of our desert flora. To me the fragrances elicit an almost artistic visual effect!"

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