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Gardens in winter 1


Mark Dion’s expedition begins (photo taken from his blog on the William Bartram project)

In case you’re not following the current travels of artist Mark Dion via his blog, it’s worth a visit. Dion is trying to retrace the journey of naturalist William Bartram (son of John Bartram) through the south to collect botanical specimens. The online updates are monthly.

In the last one, Dion gets totally off track, even with help, leaving behind his maps, losing them in the water, and generally proving what a difficult thing it is to navigate in the wild (or these days, what’s left of it).

Ultimately, I had to conclude the Bartrams–father John and son William–were no doubt better schooled in orienting themselves in parts unknown–a distinct advantage and important one for people living in the 18th and 19th century.

Dion, a man of his own era, clearly lacking the required experience, doesn’t have a clue. But his tale is charming, at times hilarious, and generally self-deprecating.

What Dion collects and draws on his journey will be mailed back to Bartram’s Garden in West Philadelphia, where it will be displayed in cabinets built especially to house the collections. The resulting exhibit, Travels of William Bartram- Reconsidered, will open June 20 at Bartram’s Garden coinciding with the Americans for the Arts Conference in Philadelphia.