Genesis of a Garden: Gallery walkabout with Elise

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Elise Buitendag’s botanical paintings are as invigorating as a walk in a rainforest.

This long-time Nelspruit resident’s choice of subject matter evokes all the magic and joy of nature in the souls of those who stop for a while and let themselves be inspired by the mastery of her art.

Over 150 of Elise’s paintings can be enjoyed at the Genesis of a Garden exhibition which opened to the public on 2 March and runs until 27 March, at the White River Gallery at Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre in Mpumalanga.

The launch coincided with the release of Elise’s book – also titled Genesis of a Garden. This beautiful publication, filled with Elise’s art and her rich words, transports readers back to the late 60s, 70s and early 80s when a group of men and women tamed a section of veld at the confluence of the Nels and Crocodile rivers to create what is today the Lowveld National Botanical Garden.

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A qualified botanist, Elise was part of the team tasked with selectively taming the bush to create the foundations of this magnificent garden. The book shares wonderful anecdotes of the first 12 years of the garden’s existence, when Nelspruit was a small town and wild Africa was but a breath away.

Today, the garden is still filled with a diversity of wildlife and in the dark of night, hippo leave the safety of the river and graze on the emerald green lawns.

The timing of the launch could not have been better – it marked a year since gallery owner Dana MacFarlane took over the White River Gallery and it is also the garden’s golden jubilee this year.

Introducing Elise at the official opening, Dana said: “Elise has profound insight, talent and grace.”

Guest speaker and South African artist Karin Daymond said that Elise perfectly captures the ‘perfect imperfections of nature’ and that her paintings give one a sense of stepping into a garden.

“Elise was intrepid and pioneering, going where no woman had gone before without creature comforts,” said Karin.

She recalled how 20 years ago, Elise asked her to teach her how to use oils. Already an accomplished artist, Elise was determined to master the new medium. And so began an interesting relationship between the two. As a botanical artist, Elise is not content until her subject is accurately captured on canvas, while Karin manipulates plants in her paintings to suit her needs. “I must have driven Elise crazy but eventually we established common ground.”

Karin spoke of the tonal contrast in Elise paintings and how they manipulate the eye. She mentioned how Elise’s work inspires peace and ‘ultimately reminds us of times when we felt such a sense of peace’.

Christopher Willis, the chief director – conservation gardens and tourism at the South African National Biodiversity Institute, which manages the country’s national gardens, said Elise’s book is an incredible mixture of artworks, old photos and memories.

The painting featured on the cover of Genesis of a Garden was auctioned at the event, with part of the proceeds going to Blind SA.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Elise is both a qualified botanist and accomplished artist. She worked for 12 years as botanist at the Lowveld National Botanical Garden in Nelspruit, after starting her career at the Botanical Research Institute in Pretoria. Subsequently, until retirement, she was employed by the National Department of Agriculture, where she participated in the technical work of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV).

Elise is acknowledged as one of South Africa’s professional botanical artists and has authored and illustrated several publications. She has participated in five international botanical art exhibitions, as well as many other exhibitions held in major cities of South Africa.

She painted the colour plates for the book Combretaceae of Southern Africa by JD Carr, launched by Everard Read in Johannesburg. Her illustrations have been published in Veld and Flora, Proteas of Southern Africa by JP Rourke, and various other publications. Several of her paintings have appeared on the covers of UPOV publications. Some of her floral designs were commissioned by Foskor for a set of porcelain plates manufactured by the prestigious porcelain factory Langenthal in Switzerland.  

Since retirement, Elise has been teaching art part-time. After painting botanical art in watercolour for several years, she presently prefers to explore the possibilities offered by oils, expressing largely what she observes in nature.      

WALKABOUT WITH ELISE

Elise will conduct a walkabout at the White River Gallery at noon on Saturday, 16 March. On this occasion, Elise will share thoughts on her creative process and the source of her inspiration – the beauty of the natural world around us. This is a rare opportunity to get a glimpse into the mind of this remarkable woman.

It will also be another opportunity to view and place your bid on the three works on silent auction. Part of the proceeds of this auction will go to Blind SA.

For further information, contact Dana on 082 784 6895.

* White River Gallery is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm; and on Sundays and public holidays from 10am to 2pm.