Friday, 3 May 2013

Flying into the Unknown and Winning Gold

On the evening of Sunday, 8th April 2013, and with my precious cargo of nine botanical paintings professionally packed and safe in the hold of the BA jet bound for Heathrow, I set off on the adventure of a life time.

This story began in September 2011 when the doyenne of South African botanical art and my good friend and mentor, Vicky Thomas, said to me: ‘Margaret, I think that you should try for the RHS in London’. This was a challenge that I could not resist. In July 2012 I heard that my work had been accepted by the selection committee of the RHS and that the date of the RHS London Orchid and Botanical Art Show was set for 12 and 13 April 2013. As the only South African and the sole representative of the continent of Africa at this prestigious Botanical Art Exhibition in London, I was filled with apprehension; I was flying into the unknown world of international botanical art.

What a beautiful venue the Lindley Hall in Westminster is, property of the Royal Horticultural Society. Together with 28 other artists from 10 countries around the world, we hung our paintings on the Wednesday of that week. At that stage I felt like a ‘wilted flower’, awed by the status of the occasion. There were some wonderful paintings, particularly those of the Korean, Japanese and Australian artists. With a day to spare before the welcoming cocktail party and preview, I was able to enjoy walking London from my most convenient hotel, a mere ten minutes’ walk from the RHS venue in Westminster.

Suffice to say that the duration of the exhibition passed in a whirlwind. The British public is very supportive (apparently over 4000 people came to the show) and it was an extremely busy time. I had left South Africa determined to show the world what beautiful Ericas we have in the Western Cape and, most importantly, to see and learn from the other artists. Hopefully I achieved both.

My own success was completely unexpected and enormously exciting. If only I had had family and friends with me to enjoy this momentous and wonderful occasion. When I saw the certificate of my award next to my painting, I grabbed the doorman and hugged him and, needless to say, my cell phone hummed from the moment that the news got out! With a Gold Medal, the award for Best Painting on Show at the RHS exhibition of 2013 and this particular painting, (Erica bodkinii), acquired by the RHS for their botanical art collection, I was completely overwhelmed.
Margaret (left) receiving her medal

Two of the judges arranged for me to spend time at the Herbarium and Library at Kew. There I was able to see the magnificent Erica paintings of Francis Bauer and H.C. Andrews, done between 1790 and 1820. I also visited the Shirley Sherwood Exhibition where, sadly, the main hall was being prepared for a new exhibition.

Back in Hermanus after a very protracted flight home, I walked out onto my front stoep to see the wonderful view stretching over the Fynbos, across the seas to the distant hills of Gansbaai. This was where yet another chapter began – the stoep was decorated with South African flags, balloons and a huge banner. My family, my friends, my town and my country have welcomed me home in an extraordinary way. I am so proud to be a South African and to live in such a generous and loving community.

I challenge all the Botanical Artists here in the Western Cape: have faith in your ability and go out and show the world. Live your dream – you can do it.

Margaret de Villiers
Hermanus
May 2013

And on behalf of all our BAASA members in South Africa we would like to congratulate Margaret on such an awesome achievement! Well done Margaret!

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