It takes a gifted artist to become a great teacher and those who dare to teach never cease to learn.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Mushroom magic

Tricholoma by Irene Young

In addition to the Kathryn Kalmbach Herbariumfor Vascular Plants illustration students at Denver Botanic Gardens are fortunate to have access also to the Sam Mitchel Herbarium for Fungi.
Our fungi herbarium is the largest and best curated mycological collection of the Southern Rocky Mountain Region, with approximately 18,000 preserved and documented specimens of mushrooms and other fungi. The collection includes more than 2,500 species within approximately 300 genera, and 36 TYPE collection of Colorado Fungi. The herbarium was established in 1969 when Dr. Sam Mitchel turned a hobby into a real scientific endeavor by establishing a "mushroom collection" at Denver Botanic Gardens. 
Chlorophyllum rachodes by Carla Pawlewitcz

Please click here to see images from a recently completed class based on dried mushroom specimens from the herbarium. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

2019 Arts and Archives tour: Our second day in Samarkand - "The Paradise of This World" -

If it is said that a paradise is to be seen in this world, then the paradise of this world is Samarkand. - Ata-Malik Juvaini (1226-1283)

The settlements in Samarkand area can be traced back to 2000-1500 BCE. Alexander the Great used Samarkand as his base for expeditions in the region between 329 and 327 BCE. He called the town for Maracanda and stated that “Everything that I have heard about Maracanda is true, except that it’s more beautiful than I ever imagined”. Being in crossroads leading to China, India and Persia Samarkand was also a key Silk Road city. We made our best to cover and learn about a fraction the most important sights during our two day stay in the city. 

Ulugh Beg Observatory

The Ulugh Beg Observatory was built in the 1420s by the Timurid ruler Ulugh Beg, the grandson of emperor Timur. Ulugh Beg was unlike his contemporaries not known for killing but for his remarkable work for the science and astronomy fields. The main instrument was a 40 meter tall and 63 meters long arch (Fakhrī sextant) used in determining the basic constants of astronomy: the inclination of the elliptic to the equator and constants arising from observation of the sun, such as the length of the tropical year and the point of the vernal equinox. 

The scientists at Ulugh Beg Observatory measured the length of the year to within 25 seconds of the actual value, and determined the axial tilt of the Earth so accurately that their number falls within today’s accepted range of values. Ulugh Beg also compiled, roughly 200 years before the discovery of telescopes, a star catalogue containing some 1,018 stars and their locations in the night sky. After Ulugbek’s death observatory was destroyed and robbed by religious fans. For centuries the exact location of the observatory was known only by few. The observatory was rediscovered in 1908 by the Russian archaeologist Vassily Vyatkin.

Afrasiab Museum in Samarkand is dedicated to the history of the city and its development from the time of Alexander the Great conquest. Afrasiab, once located in the heart of ancient Samarkand, was destroyed by the Mongols in the early 13th century.
The findings discovered during archaeological excavations at Afrasiab, each of which belongs to a different period of the settlement history are one of the most valuable artifacts of the museum. The most valuable exhibits of Afrasiab museum also include unique pieces of wall paintings dating back to the Ikhshidid dynasty (7-8th centuries), depicting hunting scenes and holiday celebrations.

Tomb of Daniel (Khodja Daniyar Mausoleum) is the one of several burial places claimed for the Old Testament Prophet Daniel and a pilgrimage site for not only Muslims but also Christians and Jewish people. Even beyond Uzbekistan and Susa, Iran, a couple of cities in Iraq also lay claim to be the final resting place of Daniel – which, since the Bible places Daniel in Babylon, in modern day Iraq, at the time of his death, is not too far-fetched either.  The tomb of the saint in Iraq (Mosel) was destroyed by the fighters recently.
As legend has it, Timur (Tamerlane) ordered the relics to be buried at Samarkand for good luck.

The tomb is 18 meters long and we can read several different legends for the reason of this, one of them is that Timur decided to build the the tomb so long that enemies could not find the relics. 

Shah-I-Zinda is one of the oldest and longest-running examples of a continually constructed historic site in the world located near Bibi-Khanym Mosque on the slope of ancient Samarkand settlement Afrasiab. This is a remarkable complex of medieval Samarkand mausoleums and other cult buildings (over 20 in number), and called ‘the street cemetery’ by the locals (time wise stretching from the 9th to 15th century). 
The decoration of the portals, the entrances and dome drums includes exquisite tile mosaics (geometric and floral designs), glazed brick cladding, various bands of inscriptions from the Koran and Persian poetry and wisdom heritage (as well as names of master craftsmen and patrons) and muqarnas (ornamental vaulting). The interiors also feature carved plaster designs and murals, gilt on the glaze and even landscapes and dragons (evidence of Chinese influence).

Shakhi Zinda is the burial place of royal persons and nobles. The complex was founded to mark a site of legend, where mythology states Muhammed’s cousin, Kusam ibn Abbas. Even in the Middle Ages, a pilgrimage to this grave was equated to Mecca hajj. All mausoleums at Shakh-i-Zinda form a single composition. Each of them is a square building with a dome, the entrance to each is highlighted by a portico. The buildings are decorated with majolica tiles and carved mosaic. The last construction is the main entrance to the Kusam ibn Abbas small architectural complex of a few buildings, which completes the whole ensemble (built 1434/35 AD). To reach that complex we needed to climb additional 33 steps. According to the legend Prophet Muhammed’s cousin was buried under this mausoleum. 

 Opening into the Kusam ibn Abbas shrine is an old wooden door with ivory inlays dated to 1404 - 1405.

For more photos and text from our overwhelming second day in Samarkand, please click here 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Colorado's Lost Legacy in Science Friday

Colored pencils by Deanna Gammon

Science Friday came live to Boulder last weekend, and it was a pleasure to talk about Colorado apples with Ira Flatow at the Chautauqua Auditorium. The interview will be aired 1:40 today, Friday, June 14 on NPR stations throughout the country -- please tune in  -- you can also listen to the podcast after the broadcast
There is also a recent TEDx talk about the apples, which you can watch here or if you like to read it, you'll find it here. 
Last winter we had a Cafe Botanique event around the apples, and starting this summer (August 20th, 1 p.m.) we have a botanical illustration course to document some of the endangered heritage apple species in Boulder County. You can register for that course by clicking here.
University of Colorado in Boulder will offer EBIO 1250 -- an inquiry-based course about these apple trees.

Chenango Strawberry-variety, watercolor and pencil by M.A. Palmer

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Legendary Mulberry Paper from Samarkand

One of our highlights in Uzbekistan was a visit to the family run Meros Silk paper factory in Koni Ghil, 6 miles outside Samarkand.
The knowledge of making silk paper came from China on the 8th century. It is said that the production secret was revealed after the Battle of Talas in 751 CE by captured Chinese soldiers who happened to be paper makers. By the 8th century around 400 mills were producing paper in Samarkand area.
The original paper was made from silk fibers, however from the 10th century, mulberry fibers replaced all other materials as it was pest resistant, flexible and durable. 
Mulberry paper is durable and can also be embroidered and used for clothing

Many Persian and Arabic manuscripts of the ninth and 10th centuries were written on it and it was the choice for manuscripts of the Holy Qur’an since the 8th century. Moths, silver fish, mice and other paper loving critters cannot digest the mulberry fiber, thus making it the ideal paper to meet the needs of Islamic calligraphers. Silk paper is believed to have a shelf life of over 2000 years. 
we got a quick demonstration of the paper making

The traditional paper  making process and recipe was lost in the mid-19th century when the production ended with the Russian colonization of the area and introduction of industrial paper production.
Today the demand for the silk/mulberry paper is growing, particularly in the field of restoration of Qur’ans. In the beginning of the 21st century the traditional process was revived as part of Unesco’s Silk Road Project and collaboration with JICA the village of Koni Ghil was identified as a place for the traditional paper making factory.

Watermill that is powering the wooden hammers to make the bark softer
With help of the international support Zarif Mukhtarov, a local professional ceramist decided to revive the handmade mulberry paper and Meros Silk Paper Factory was established. This is one of the only workshops for handmade paper in Central Asia. 
A very educational visit and absolutely worthwhile - Thank you Meros!

For more images from the Factory and the paper making process please click here

Friday, June 14, 2019

Wildflowers of El Charco with Isik Güner and Rocio Rios - 2019 SMA Tour

Our 2019 October San Miguel de Allende tour is filling up, we only have few seats available!
Isik Güner will be our main instructor on this immersion time for art and culture in San Miguel de Allende in October.
(Isik Guner, watercolor)

This time you also have the unique opportunity to learn and practice the siligraphy printmaking technique instructed by graphic artist Rocio Rios.

(siligraphy by Rocio Rios)

We have been partnering with El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden and nature reserve since 2009 launching botanical illustration program there. This is our third SMA tour focusing both the rich cultural heritage of the exiting and beautiful San Miguel de Allende with surroundings, and two art related courses plus a cooking class.
You can see the full program by clicking here. For more information, please contact Mervi at 720-865-3653 [or email: mervihj(at)]

(Ratibida columnifera, watercolor by Isik Güner)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Celebrating our Japanese Garden

Scratchboard, Milvi Gill
Our Japanese Garden, Shofu-en Garden, is celebrating this month its 40th anniversary. In honor of this event we had a scratchboard class to learn more about this "garden of pines and wind". The students were introduced to this garden by its curator who talked about the different elements and symbolic objects like the waterways and meandering pathways. Our Shofu-en garden honors Japanese traditions by planting mostly native plants and featuring some 130 character pine trees transplanted from the foothills of Colorado. The oldest of these pine trees are approximated to be some 500 years old.
Scratchboard, Randy Raak

To see more images from this class, please click here 

Saturday, June 8, 2019

2019 Arts and Archives: Iris korolkowii - the ultimate goal

On our last day in Beldersay we took the chair lift up to 2000 m elevation and took a short but steep hike to 2210 m (7250 ft) to the spectacular viewpoint of the Tien Shan mountains. Our primary goal was to find a blooming Iris korolkowii, which is endemic to this area. The hail storm in the previous evening had decimated the plants, however there was one single Iris korolkowii plant that had opened few hours prior to our arrival for us to see and study.
I. korolkowii is named after by General Korolkow, who discovered and brought the plant from Russian Asia in the Tien Shan mountains’ rocky slopes at 1600-3800 m elevation to Europe in 1870.
On the way back to Tashkent we stopped to view the Mesolithic petroglyphs  (100 000 - 40 000 B.C), 

and one of the highest dams in the Central Asia, the 168 meters dam at Charvak reservoir. That was also the opportunity for the group picture. 
Two people were missing from this group picture

The day was a perfect grand finale for our 2019 Tour.To see more pictures from our last day, please click here. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

2019 Arts and Archives tour: Chimgan Valley - Native Tulips and Peonies

Fields of Tulipa dubia 

On our 5 mile plant exploration hike to the Chimgan valley we were able to see many unexpected plant species due to the late arrival of the spring. It has been raining unusually much which has affected the typical flowering times. Our goal was to find native tulips (several tulip species originate in Uzbekistan) and native peonies, and we found both!
It was raining the whole day, but it didn't affect our exploration enthusiasm

 Paeonia intermedia (formerly P. hybrida)
To see more pictures from our hike, please click here

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

2019 Arts and Archives: Wildflowers of Beldersay - first day

(Against all odds we did after all get an excellent internet connection up on the Uzbek Mountains)
Last year we had masses of Painted ladies in Colorado, this year there is a similar event in Uzbekistan

Last night we arrived to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan to be prepared to start our wildflower exploration part of the tour guided by Chris Gardner, the author of the Flora of the Silk Road . Our base for this part of the tour is the ski resort of Beldersay located 80 km north east of Tashkent at 1651 m elevation (5500 ft). Beldersay is on the slopes of the Kumbel Mountain (2200 m), and famous for the longest alpine skiing track in Uzbekistan.

On our short hike after arrival we saw quite a few plants common as garden plants in Colorado, such as Eremurus (foxtail) and Dictamnus among others. An afternoon thunderstorm turned us around to the lodge, but we’ll continue tomorrow with native tulips and peonies in sight! 
Gentiana olivieri

Dactylorhiza umbrosa
For more pictures from our hike today, please click here

Monday, June 3, 2019

2019 Arts and Archives: Samarkand paper, Astronomy and Mausoleums

Due to the weak or non-existing WiFi connection I will not be posting here before getting back to my office next week.
 Samarkand mulberry paper that is embroidered.

Today we got Samarkand mulberry paper making demonstration, visited Ulugbek Observatory, Afrasiab Museum and the Tomb of Saint Daniel
Frescoes from the Afrasiab Museum. Afrasiab site was destroyed by mongols in the early 13th century The exhibits illustrate the history of Samarkand from the time of Alexander the Great to the Mongols' time. The site is one of the largest archaeological sites in the world.The museum also exhibits uniquely preserved frescoes of Samarkand palace belonging to the period of Ikhshid Dynasty from the 7th-8th centuries.  

From Kusam Ibn Abbas Complex from 11th-12th century

Finally we visited the Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis, which included 11 spectacular mausoleums from 14th - 15th century

2019 Arts and Archives - Samarkand, Blue Tile and Gold

Bibi-Khanym Mosque build by Temur 1399-1404.
We arrived to Samarkand early Saturday morning and were met by our outstanding guide Guzal Rahmat. After some rest at the Malika Classic hotel we starter our orientation to this  UNESCO World Heritage site  with a visit to the remains of Bibi-Khanym Mosque. It was build by Temur (1336-1405) decided to build the biggest structure of the East in honor of his favorite wife, Bibi Khanym. The construction lasted 5 years (1399-1404) and the finished building was 109 x 167 meters. Unfortunately the building was not very stable and the domes started collapsing before the end of the 15th century. After several earth quakes, and general erosion the site turned to a massive ruins as many of the historic sites in Uzbekistan. 

Since the 1960’s systematic restoration has been underway. After the Uzbek independence in 1991 the restoration is continued and will continue for years to come. 
New season: Apples, apricots and cherries at Siyob Bazaar 
Siyob Bazaar is adjacent to the Bibi Khanym Mosque and the largest bazaar in Samarkand. 
After exploring the bazaar we walked to the spectacular Registan Square, which is said to be a monument of medieval oriental architecture (build in 15-17th century). From three sides, the square is surrounded with grand madrasah (Islamic schools ). All three buildings have their own unique décor. This was the heart of the ancient city, public place where people gathered for any kind of festivities.
The mausoleum of Shaybanis is also part of this third madrasah. Its restoration was completed in the 1970 and is an absolute masterpiece with gold and emerald blue tile.

Finally in the end of the day we visited the Gur Emir Mausoleum which was built in the beginning of the 15th century for the Asian conqueror Temur and his two sons and two grand sons. 
What becomes to history and architecture this was an overwhelming day, our knowledgeable guide Guzal Rahmat was explaining and answering questions also about  local crafts, ikat textiles and embroidery.

Gur Emir Mausoleum 

For more pictures from our first day in Samarkand, please click here

Saturday, June 1, 2019

2019 Arts and Archives - Last day in Istanbul, outside the City Walls

The mosaic in the lunette over the doorway to esonarthex at the Chora Church depicts Christ as "The Land of the Living"

This was our last day in Istanbul. After leaving the hotel, we drove along the town wall which was initially build by Constantine the Great. The wall became double on the 5th century and thus likely almost impregnable during the medieval time and saved the city until the Ottoman forces fell the city in 1453.
We visited the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque from the 16th century located  close to the Byzantine land walls on the sixth hill very close to the highest point of the city. The architect was Mimas Sinan. Its dome diameter is 66 ft and it is 121 ft high and it only has one minaret. It was lots of windows which makes the minaret very light, some of the windows contain stain glass.
Stain glass windows in the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque 

The Karye Museum’ s original name (Chora) refers to its original location outside the city walls. The church has incredible mosaics and fresco’s (frescoes were under restoration). We walked through the Ayvansaray neighborhood stopped by a local coffee shop and then finally walked through the Patrikhane neighborhood to the Patriarchal Church of St. George. This church was originally a convent for Orthodox nuns  but has been the church to house the Ecumenical Patriarchate since 15th century. We had the pleasure to see His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to give a service inside the church.
Twelve people's luggage for two weeks!  Time to leave to the airport

It was time to leave to the airport and also say bye to Onur Yurtbasi, our exceptional guide who made our stay memorable and inspirational. Our flight was boarding late evening towards a destination which was new for all of us. In four hours we would be in Samarkand, Uzbekistan!

Istanbul's brand new airport which was opened only a month ago

To see more pictures from our last day, please click here