The Missouri Botanical Garden is just a couple of minutes from our house. The name sounds very formal, but most people around here call it MoBot for short. Or they refer to it as “the garden” with a lowercase “g” – which is what I use the most. The garden is nearly finished with a massive overhaul of the north end entrance, and it’s most definitely a spectacular destination for people everywhere to visit. But to me it feels as comfortable and accessible as my own backyard. Which is awesome, because our actual backyard is a giant dirt pit right now and for the foreseeable future.
To say that I sort a lot of things out in the garden would be a huge understatement.
Most Wednesday and Saturday mornings, I work through many things in that place. It’s so familiar to me that I don’t really have to think about where I’m wandering or how much time I have. When I’m there, I’m on autopilot. I can make a 20 minute time slot work, or I can stretch it to an hour and a half, and rarely have to look at my watch in the process. I see the same few people, but mostly I’m by myself. The garden is set up with dozens of smaller garden spaces within it. Some are very formal spaces, carefully tended and manicured and refreshed in each new season. Others ramble a bit, a little looser, a little wilder. But even the more naturalized areas have an order to them – the paths are maintained, and there is clear intention behind every single plant location.
Near the entrance to the garden, and on axis with Henry Shaw’s home and mausoleum, is the Linnean House – a beautiful Victorian-era masonry greenhouse with giant double-hung windows and a leaded glass roof. The greenhouse has been empty for over a year – serving as a temporary portal to the garden during construction. When the new entrance finally opened in early fall, the Linnean house was closed off to thru-traffic for the final phase of the work. Slowly the large terra cotta pots returned to one end, while the other end was used for storing project materials. When the weather is nice, the windows are generally open, and the breezes blow in and around the cacti and camellias. One morning, as I walked along the reflecting pools in front of the building, I noticed a sea of bobbing yellow heads tumbling out of one of the windows. Rudbeckia or something similar – dark centers and yellow petals, a tangle of stems that couldn’t be contained. It felt like a jolt of pure joy – the view along the side of the building is always so formal and symmetrical and ordered… until it wasn’t! The word that immediately came to mind was exuberance – unruly, unrestrained, unabashed exuberance.
I was positive that I had taken a photo that morning when I first saw it, but I hadn’t. For months I turned that corner and hoped that no one had shut the window. They never did – the flowers still grew and bloomed and spread. One morning I passed them and then circled back to get a quick shot. We had a very warm fall, and the temperatures didn’t start dropping until the holiday season. The first very cold morning walk I rounded the corner and I could see immediately that the window was shut. I knew it was time, but I wasn’t quite ready. When I got closer I realized that the flowers were still there – little black noses pressed up against the glass, still a tangle, ready to spill over again at a moment’s notice.
Before I even reached the walled garden that houses Shaw’s mausoleum on that morning when I first saw those flowers, I had the idea for this card. I started thinking about windows all the time. I was wrapping up a big project at work, and attended the consecration for the chapel there. The stained glass designs have been completed for this project, and they hope to have them fabricated and installed next year. The designs are very bold and modern and color-rich – so I wondered about creating stained glass windows with a base layer in watercolors. I liked that idea, and started thinking about circular window designs.
The next component would need to be the leaded pattern over the colorful glass, and I kept bouncing between inspiration ideas there. I received a request for sketchbook submissions to a gallery show honoring the 50th year of the Charles E. Daniel Center in Genoa, Italy where I lived and studied years ago. Looking through my sketchbooks, I found several drawings of San Lorenzo Cathedral with its beautiful rose window, and thought that might be a great window to start with. But when I put my gallery submission together with my drawings of pebble mosaics in Genoa and the one I created in our front garden 25 years later, I started wondering – maybe that was the design I should use? I liked that idea as well, but our garden had just shown up in our cards in 2020 (plus I share photos of it A LOT!). I let that percolate for a while, and on another garden walk I really noticed the stained glass in Shaw’s mausoleum glowing in the early morning sun. I thought I could take those semi-circle designs and translate them to a full circle. I started sketching up all of those ideas, and remembered the block print I had done years ago for another card that featured the huge rose window at Grace UMC. I love the design of those windows because it is a five-point design, which is very unique.
So many ideas… until one morning it finally clicked. I’d layer the paper to add some depth to the window frame itself, and I’d start with one quadrant of a circle in a base color, and then transition to another design in the second quadrant, using a slightly lighter color. I’d do the same for the third quadrant, but I’d use the Grace window for that one because the design does not neatly divide into halves or quarters – I’d let that design spill over the 3/4 mark and into an open space – as if the window had been tilted open…
I thought of the intricate quilt designs that Anne creates – what if I really embraced the idea of repetition and exacting detail to make this window frame really sing? I thought of the colorful translucent stars that Lilly makes every Christmas to hang in her snowy Boston windows – what if this window could come off the page and hang somewhere else? I thought about the invitations I made earlier this year for my parents’ 50th anniversary gathering, the various flowers and leaves that spilled across the page – what if the stained glass began to transform into flowers and leaves? I thought of the sparkles that dance across Emily’s living room, a million prisms of light and love – what if the color and the light spills out across the card, a tangle of joy, abounding exuberance no longer contained? It was like I was constantly collecting ideas from the people and the places around me, and the design of the cards just kept evolving. I would send little notes to friends here and there: “I love this, I’ve been thinking about this, I think I’ll use this idea in my card this year…”
The window used three of the designs that I was considering, but I still felt like the pebble mosaic / garden should be included somehow. I thought of Marcella and her extraordinary garden bursting with spring bulbs. It’s a constant reminder to me that tucking a homely looking bulb into the cold earth on a miserably gray early winter afternoon is the best kind of promise to make to yourself, and to others. Is there anything more exuberant than those early daffodils pushing through the muck, dogwood blossoms like butterfly wings, a riot of garden colors, again and again and again? So I decided to do a transparent overlay – I’d show the mosaic design like a sketch, and position the window beneath it, and print my message on that. I love that it almost feels like glass when you slide the card out of the envelope. The flowers seem to be pressing up against it – just like that winter greenhouse window full of sunny summer faces.
And as I moved from the planning stage to the process stage, this card in particular became a metaphor for life right now. We are fully immersed in so many things, and we often find ourselves deep in the messy and monotonous parts. I cut those black and gray pieces for six weeks straight. Slowly, slowly, slowly whittling away at the stack, working only in graytones. I would constantly remind myself that the work now will bear fruit later. The color will come, and it will be fabulous. I hope you find it fabulous. It was truly a joy to make.
The design of the insert in the card was inspired by Melody’s cards – each year she draws such amazing holiday designs, incorporating and sharing beautiful architectural details in each one. I included all four of the window inspiration designs on the insert, and then added this note below:
One of my favorite words to use is glorious – I use it a lot! A few examples that come to mind: the sunset view down our street, a riot of tulips, surprise seventy degree afternoons, ginkgo yellow, the downhill portion of a long run in Forest Park. If I write out the word, I sometimes do it the way that I see it in my mind: G L O R I O U S
Glorious is a near perfect word to describe beauty or splendor that demands admiration – a snapshot, a moment, something to press pause on, to ingest, absorb. But sometimes I need a word that feels more like an action verb, and E X U B E R A N C E comes to mind. It is a gift to observe the beauty around us, but it is a radical act to summon it forth ourselves. To push at boundaries and constraints with both purpose and abandon.
As a friend phrased it just this week: the rebellious force of joy.
To abounding exuberance in the coming year! With love, Kristin, Marcus, Ella & Frances 2022