In spring 2019, artist Madge Evers saw Emily Dickinson’s “Herbarium” for the first time. Housed at the Harvard Library, the 66-page volume contains hundreds of pressed, dried plants, their scientific names written on labels in Dickinson’s distinctive script.
Later that year, during a walk in Northampton, Massachusetts, Evers began to conceptualize an herbarium of her own. “There, in the cracks and along the sidewalk, plants were busting out all over,” Evers said in an interview with the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) for the museum’s blog, Art Loves Company. “Tendrils of frost grape vine were raising their arms, literally waving at me. Lush greenery spoke of purpose, lives well-lived. I wanted to pay homage to their spring bursting, their summer gathering of energy, their fall retirement, and their winter waiting. I had a desire not to capture all of these stages, but to depict the perfect, strange beauty of plants.”
The New Herbarium
In “The New Herbarium,” currently on view at BMAC, Evers uses mushroom spores and plant matter as her artistic mediums. Instead of preserving and displaying the plants themselves, Evers places foraged mushrooms gill-side down on top of plants that serve as stencils.
“After the billions of spores contained in the gills or pores of the mushroom are released, they fall and mark the paper,” Evers said. “Leaf and petal silhouettes are rendered in spores with organic patterns, photographic detail, and varying textures.”
The resulting images are finely detailed and appear lit from within, leading some viewers to mistake them initially for photographs. They are mostly black and white with occasional pops of color from dried flowers, like the bright orange Shirley poppies featured in one work.
“Using spores as a zero-waste art medium appeals to me as a gardener and composter,” Evers said. “When I forage for materials, I engage in an interspecies relationship with fungi. Like the wind and other animals, I spread the spores of mushrooms; I germinate those powdery spores into a fruiting body that takes the form not of a toadstool, but of a two-dimensional image on paper.”
About Madge Evers
Evers is an educator, gardener, and visual artist. She has been paying close attention to signs of fungi since 2015, when she began making mushroom spore print art. Referencing photosynthesis and the ancient collaboration in mycorrhiza, her practice involves foraging for mushrooms and plants, and sometimes includes the cyanotype process and paint. In 2021, she was a Mass Cultural Council fellowship finalist in photography. She has attended artist residencies on Cape Cod and Maine; current residencies at Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Kinney Renaissance Center at UMass allow Evers to interact with landscapes and their histories. After teaching for 25 years in Rhode Island and Massachusetts public schools, she now works as a full-time artist.
“The New Herbarium” is on view at BMAC through February 12, 2023.
About Brattleboro Museum & Art Center
Founded in 1972, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center presents rotating exhibits of contemporary art, complemented by lectures, artist talks, film screenings, and other public programs. BMAC is open Wednesday-Sunday, 10-4. Admission is on a “pay-as-you-wish” basis. Located in historic Union Station in downtown Brattleboro, at the intersection of Main Street and Routes 119 and 142, the museum is wheelchair accessible. For more information, call 802-257-0124 or visit brattleboromuseum.org.
BMAC is supported in part by the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by Brattleboro Savings & Loan, C&S Wholesale Grocers, the Four Columns Inn, Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, and Whetstone Beer Co.