Book of the Month Club: Land of Enchantment Wildflowers

Executive Summary: 3/5  Land of Enchantment Wildflowers: A Guide to the Plants of New Mexico (Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest), by Willa F. Finley and LaShara J. Nieland is an informative and beautifully produced book, but impractical for use while hiking. Editing and organization makes it harder to find specific flowers than necessary.

There are affiliate links in this post. As with all reviews on this blog, I purchased the item with my own money, for my own use, without any sponsorship.

 Land of Enchantment Wildflowers: A Guide to the Plants of New Mexico (Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest), by Willa F. Finley and LaShara J. Nieland has been on my bookshelf for a couple of years now. This field guide to New Mexico wildflowers features more than 200 plants, all photographed by the authors, with details of their blossoms, leaves and seedpods.

There are 456 color photographs, plus information about traditional uses; toxins; etymology of both common and scientific names; usage in landscaping and gardening; and interactions with livestock, wildlife and insects. The book is written in a clear and engaging prose style.

This guidebook is beautifully produced, with accurate color reproduction. For a trade paperback, it is fairly compact and lightweight–just shy of 9″ x 5 1/2″ x 1″ and 1 lb, 11.5 oz (780g). Personally, if I’m doing a serious wildflower hike, with sketchbook, drawing tools and camera in tow, on top of my water, weather and dog gear, that nearly 2 pounds of paper weighs too much and takes up too much volume in my daypack to be useful. And if I’m doing a fast and light dayhike, I’m not going to be making any lengthy stops to peruse a guidebook.

Land of Enchantment Wildflowers organizes the flowers by color, rather than botanical family. This seems like a helpful way to categorize different species, especially for a novice wildflower enthusiast, but it’s not as useful as you might think. For one thing, not everyone sees colors the same way. Also, flowers can have slight color variations in certain locations.

Plants that are in the same family have more in common with each other than they do with plants that have the same color flower, but are totally different in their shape, preferred locations, pollinators, etc, etc. It’s the same reason most bird guides are organized by general family–a crow and a raven are very similar in what they eat and how they move, but a blackbird is a songbird, with totally different needs and behaviors. Yet all three birds are black!

Another problem with the book is the way the photographs are selected and arranged. The photos are all of the plants in full bloom. There are no photos of young plants, seed pods, etc. Wildflowers only bloom for a short period each year, so knowing how they look “out of season” is important!

The authors have placed photos of very closely related flowers together under one species entry heading, but the labeling as to which (sub) species is which can be confusing, or missing.

Finally, the photos are all literally postage-stamp size. Not very comfortable viewing for those of us with aging eyes!

We keep a selection of New Mexico books in our guest room for guests to enjoy while visiting us. Land of Enchantment Wildflowers has a definite place on the bookshelf. As a field guide, it’s a little too heavy and the photos are too confusing to take along for most dayhikes. I still prefer to snap photos with my phone camera, then use the databases at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center to make a positive ID.

The authors also wrote the guide, Lone Star Wildflowers: A Guide to Texas Flowering Plants (Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest).



Book of the Month Club: The Flower Recipe Book

House Beautiful magazine’s August issue features some good books for the coffee table and the nightstand this month. I was particularly interested in The Flower Recipe Book, by Alethea Harampolis and Jill Rizzo, published by Artisan Books.

Harampolis and Rizzo own Studio Choo in San Francisco, a florist boutique and stylist consultancy to Sunset and Food & Wine magazine, among others. The book is a guide for creating 100 different flower arrangements, each of which showcases a particular blossom. The different flowers are arranged alphabetically in the table of contents. Techniques, ingredients and “recipes” are illustrated with copious photographs, and suggestions are made for substitutions and variations.

A wide variety of vases and vessels are shown, with descriptions of types of shapes and textures to use to create a similar look and feel. Photographs are by Paige Green.

If I weren’t living under a “1 book in, 2 books out” policy right now, with only books I can’t part with, I would definitely buy this book! As it is, I’m going to be trolling the public library to see when it’s available, lol. 🙂

Joan Mitchell: No lady, but a hell of a painter

“Bravery was a quality you could love Joan for, but bravery is hard to love.” —Klaus Kertess

As Klaus Kertess implies in the foreword to his excellent monograph, Joan Mitchell was a difficult woman. Confrontational, prickly, caustic, promiscuous, she was “one of the boys” in the tight-knit, notoriously macho, Abstract Expressionist circle of the 1940s and ’50s. She was also sensitive, loyal and generous. Patricia Albers exposes the sources of Mitchell’s raw nerves in her excellent biography, Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, a Life.

Using a wealth of correspondence, psychoanalysts’ transcripts and interviews with Joan’s still-living contemporaries (who recalled her with fondness and exasperation), Albers documents Mitchell’s priveliged upbringing in the Great Depression as the daughter of a wealthy Chicago doctor; her years spent painting in  cold-water New York walk-ups and brawling at the Cedar Tavern; her life as an expatriate in France; and her complicated love life—complicated by Mitchell’s alcoholism, her combative nature and her perverse attracion to men with bigger problems than her own.

As befits a book about an Action Painter, Lady Painter is filled with colorful, expressive verbs and punchy descriptions to make a compulsive read. Unlike many art biographies by non-artists, which end up focusing on the glamorous or harrowing biographical details at the expense of discussing the artist’s studio life, Albers ably explores how Mitchell’s family history and personality affected her choice of Abstract Expressionism, her love of landscape motifs, even her palette.

For example, Albers brings to light the fact that Joan Mitchell was multiply synaesthetic—that is, her senses cross-stimulated each other. Like Kandinsky, Joan Mitchell heard in colors, and like Nabokov, she saw printed letters in color, too. She also saw colors associated with individual people, not as mystical New Age auras, but more as an intrinsic physical quality like red hair or freckles. In addition to her multi-sensory perception, Mitchell also seems to have been one of those very rare individuals with eidetic memory, or the ability to remember every single thing that happened to her every single day of her life for her entire life.

However, Mitchell was reticent about discussing her sense and memory abilities with others as an adult, so Albers wisely keeps speculation to a minimum, instead reporting on what Mitchell did say about specific works. Mitchell’s synaesthesia seems to have affected the way she bought art supplies, as the French words for the various colors often had different colored letters than the English color words had, so it was like having to fight through an extra layer of language to understand the labels on French paint tubes. She bought many of her art supplies in Brooklyn as a consequence.

Booze was an important part of Mitchell’s daily routine, and Albers doesn’t shy away from a discussion of how Joan’s “functional” alcoholism played a role in her painting. While Mitchell requested one interviewer to be sure to write that drinking in the old Cedar Tavern days only took place after the painting day was through, the truth was not so decorous. Albers reveals that Joan drank before, during and after her studio sessions and that the painter used alcohol to release the inhibitions of her “inner editor” to connect freely with the emotional, calligraphic action of painting.

The one flaw of this otherwise enjoyable and informative biography is the lack of quality photographs of the artist’s work. I recommend you buy or borrow the Joan Mitchell monograph by Klaus Kertess, as a visual supplement to track and compare Mitchell’s work as it evolved during her fractious life.

Other resources on Joan Mitchell:


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