When I first landed eyes on Kelly Leahy Radding’s Pele’s Pincushion (ohi’a leu), a painted plant portrait on dyed black goatskin vellum (below), the black background was a sharp reminder of the power that nature has over itself. The plant can be found as 100ft tall trees in the rainforest or 1,000 year old bonsai trees in the mountain blogs. ”The only stable characteristic of the plant is its pincushion-type flower.” It is sacred to the volcano goddess Pele (who, according to legend, resides in the Kilauea Volcano) . ”This plant not only survives, but thrives on the sulfur-filled air near the volcanic vents.” (Amy Greenwell Garden Ethnobotanical Guide to Native Hawaiian Plants) The black lava spewing out of Kilauea has erupted into our consciousness, our American landscape once again compromised by nature’s force. Plants somehow find there way back into our vision, poking through as a reminder of rebirth.
Radding found the specimen at Limahuli Garden and Preserve on Kauai on the Northwest part of the island, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. They were heavily damaged by the recent floods. The only road out to that part of the island was swept away. She says, “just another reminder that Mother Nature and Pele are the powers here, not us.
The elegance of this composition and strength of the background juxtaposed to the plant is mesmerizing. Radding’s choice of the black ground is a striking resemblance to the current event and comments on nature’s theatre. An incredible masterwork by one of the finest 20th century living botanical artists working today. Should you be interested in acquiring this work, part of the proceeds will go towards helping those who lost their homes from Kilauea’s fury.