While we wait for the tulips to make an appearance in Arboretum gardens, enjoy stunning tulip prints by renowned artist Rory McEwen on display in the Skyway Gallery starting Thursday, March 6.
The prints on display are scans of eight original limited edition prints that came with the 1977 book, Tulips & Tulipomania by Wilfrid Blunt. This book and the eight accompanying plates are a part of the Andersen Horticultural Library collection in the rare book room and are available to view by appointment. The book was a gift from the Elmer L. and Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation.
McEwen’s work is part of the Andersen Horticultural Library collection thanks to the generosity of former Minnesota Governor Elmer L. Andersen. An avid book collector, Andersen helped raise money to build the Andersen Horticultural Library, and then in the 1980s, raised money for a three-story expansion of the library, which includes office space and storage. Elmer and Eleanor commissioned and purchased the George Nakashima furnishings for the library, and many of the books in the library’s rare collection were purchased and donated by the Andersens.
Tulipomania (sometimes called Tulipmania) peaked during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century Netherlands. As public obsession grew and the cost of bulbs became exorbitant, buyers struggled to pay the inflated prices of tulips. The economic bubble eventually burst, resulting in a market collapse and the end of the craze. This phenomenon is detailed in Tulips & Tulipomania written by Wilfrid Blunt and illustrated by McEwen. Blunt described McEwen as “perhaps the most gifted artist to pass through my hands.”
McEwen was born in Scotland on March 12 of 1932. He was a descendent of the distinguished botanist John Lindley. Although he grew up with an interest in botany, McEwen proved to be multi-talented and explored varying interests throughout his lifetime, becoming a musician, writer, television presenter, poet, sculptor and painter.
McEwen first focused on his music career between 1956 and 1963, culminating in a yearlong trip with his brother, touring throughout the U.S. performing Scottish songs and ballads. During his time in America, McEwen was inspired by the American folk singer Leadbelly and learned to play the singer’s preferred instrument, the difficult twelve-string guitar, which spurred his transition to folk music and jazz. After returning to Britain, McEwen appeared on the BBC’s Tonight Show and performed on the live music program Hullabaloo.
By 1964, McEwen decided to forgo his career in music and dedicate his time to the visual arts. Although his botanical watercolors on vellum are the heart of his work, McEwen again reveals himself as a man of broad mind and study.
The success of his botanical works is highly attributed to his study of multiple art forms – from modern contemporary art to traditional masterpieces – to develop a style influenced by abstraction and minimalism. He also experimented with multiple forms of media, including sculpture with glass, plexiglass and metal. McEwen became world renowned and exhibited internationally until his tragic death in 1982 at the age of 50.
McEwen’s artwork can be found in the collections of the British Museum; Victoria & Albert Museum; the Tate; National Gallery of Modern Art, Scotland; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; the Hunt Institute, Pittsburgh; and MOMA, New York.
“Tulips & Tulipomania is just one of many books on tulips in the rare collection, open shelves and kids collection at the library,” said librarian Kathy Allen. The earliest images of tulips in the library’s rare collection are found in nursery catalogs from 1614 and 1620—at the beginning of the Tulipomania craze. The books can be viewed by appointment.