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Bartram’s garden of art


Ed Bronstein
Ed Bronstein, View from Front Porch in Snow, 2007, gouache, one of Bronstein’s views of Bartram’s Garden and environs, a solo show in the Barn at Bartram’s Gardens

Bartram’s Garden, America’s oldest living botanical garden, is not so much under-appreciated as under-visited. One of the ways it has started drawing some traffic is by hosting art events.

Bartram’s art is quite different from the outdoor sculptures going up in some other arboretums in the area. Bartram has taken a different path, hosting quirkier, more daring events, like last year’s Martha MacDonald operatic performance among the herbs and William Pope L‘s Black Factory (see Roberta’s post here; last week, McDonald celebrated the publication of her book, Lament, with photographs of the performance and pictures of her embroideries; the book is awfully sweet, and Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, which hosted the book celebration, also exhibited the embroidery originals last week).

Ed Bronstein and paintings
Ed Bronstein and some of his paintings

Back to art programing at Bartram’s garden. The place has also turned one of its buildings, the barn, into a gallery. I was there Friday for Ed Bronstein’s lovely impressionist paintings of the garden, its buildings and environs. The exhibit is a fundraiser for Bartram’s. And like the arboretum, like Bronstein, is having a sort of second career. Bronstein is well-known in Philadelphia for his work as an architect; but he is now painting full time.

The barn and view of exhibit by Ed Bronstein
The barn/gallery at Bartram’s Garden

The gallery is a great place to show art. It’s an old stone building with rough plank flooring and high, vertical ventilation windows. The atmosphere, there, unlike most gallery white boxes, is decidedly warm and welcoming. And the space shows off the work well.

Ed Bronstein, Mack & Friend at Work, 2007, oil
Ed Bronstein, Mack & Friend at Work, 2007, oil

Ed himself has long had a love affair with Philadelphia and light, so his paintings seem like just the thing for the fundraiser. Some of the paintings, the smaller new ones, were made especially for the show and were priced to sell. Sell they did.

A crowd showed up for the event, even though Bartram’s is in the wilds of West Philadelphia. But it’s a different kind of wild than the urban housing project adjacent but invisible from what’s left of John Bartram’s estate. It’s wild as in a rural field, gardens and woods near the old stone home and outbuildings.

Ed Bronstein
Morning on Main Street, oil, 2006-7

Some of the people who ventured to this part of town Friday night for the opening–really not so far, but somehow another world–included Ava Blitz and her friend George, Martin McNamara (Gallery 339 owner about to open a Tina Barney exhibit), and independent curator Julie Courtney.

Courtney has an upcoming exhibit by Mark Dion in the works for Bartram’s Garden, something very much in the spirit of McDonald’s Lament. The project, funded by Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, is just the sort of thing that differentiates the art at the garden from other arboretums. It’s historical and surprising. Dion will travel to the South to follow in John Bartram’s and his son William’s footsteps, collecting modern day samples and artifacts, just as the Bartrams collected plant samples to bring back to Philadelphia. Here’s my favorite line from the press release: “Dion envisions his journey as the quintessential exploratory road trip: part Lewis and Clark, part Jack Kerouac, part Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and part Borat.” Well, maybe the descripton is a little puffy, but it seems close to perfect on this 50-year anniversary celebration of On the Road.

The materials Dion collects and sends back will be unveiled in the spring.

Bronstein’s show will be open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 p.m. through September 27, 2007 (closed, Saturday September 15).