Gary Eldred guessed that 50 people might attend his exhibit opening at Holy Wisdom Monastery. When nearly 200 people appeared that January night, he was “absolutely, completely humbled”.
The attendees, representing at least a dozen conservation groups, came to honor the artist and admire the art. They packed into the monastery's event center, where 23 images were displayed in tidy black frames. These were prints of Eldred's pen-and-ink drawings of prairie plants. A founding member of TPE, Eldred had encountered those rare species on the remnants he helped preserve. Now, almost three decades after creating the drawings, he shared their story with the reception guests.
Rare native plants are often left out of field guides, Eldred explained. He'd set out to draw pictures that were as true-to-life as botanical illustrations. Studying multiple photos of one species, he would use different elements of each photo to draw a composite image. A single drawing in his pointillist style could take him 30 hours to complete.
This collection would reflect the beauty of the prairie outside the building, connecting visitors more deeply to the land. Eldred's drawings fit the bill perfectly. Not wanting to cost Holy Wisdom any money, Endres paid to have the prints framed. He then showed the drawings to monastery staff, helping them appreciate what he calls “a perfect match of art and venue”. When they approved the collection, he also organized and sponsored a reception himself.
To teach visitors about the artwork, Endres developed a set of informational cards. The cards hung below the pictures, describing the biology, uses, and legends of each plant. They also noted whether the species could be found in the prairies at Holy Wisdom. Such details highlighted the importance of personal experiences with nature.
Guests left the event with an appreciation for natural beauty. Landscape artist Ken Schneider gave a glowing review of Eldred's work, saying that it “displays a fundamental knowledge of both style and subject matter… Gary deftly balances the strength and fragility of these beloved gems.” Dominique Taquet, another local artist, added: “Pointillism requires a lot of patience and a very poised and analytical mind. It is obvious Gary loves his subject-matter… Beautiful work!”
In his speech that night, Endres gave his own take on the artwork's meaning: “Holy Wisdom demonstrates the Benedictine view of caring for the Earth, and Gary's art reflects how much he cares for native prairie plants.” Eldred echoed that indeed, it was care that created these drawings. As someone with no formal artistic training, his talent – like his love for all things prairie – came from within:
Holy Wisdom Monastery is outside of Middleton, Wisconsin. To learn how you can see the exhibit, visit https://benedictinewomen.org/support/art-exhibits .