Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Night-blooming Cereus" (oil on canvas, 9x12") This was started outside, at the crack of dawn, en plein air, and finished later in the studio.

It all began about 5 years ago, when I spied a pitiful little night-blooming cereus plant at an estate sale. They're not pretty plants. The flowers are the big attraction. And this little plant was in a broken pot, filled with weeds. Looked like it'd been thrown down the stairs! Still, I knew what it was -- and I wanted it.

I asked the woman in charge how much. She said $11. Egad. Well, if you're lucky to find a plant in a nursery here in Michigan, it could be $75. I kept hold of the plant and wandered around, pretending to look at more merchandise. I spied another woman working at the sale and asked her how much. Obviously she had no idea what this plant was. She glanced at it, rolled her eyes, and said $2. I slapped the moolah into her hand and zipped out the door with my treasure.

This plant was lovingly repotted, fertilized, set out on the patio every summer for 5 years. Lugged back inside for the winters. Still, no blooms, but I had my hopes. About 3 weeks ago I was sitting on my patio, enjoying an end-of-the-week glass of wine with a neighbor when I glanced over at the plant. What was that hanging out of one leaf? My God -- a bud!

Every day the bud grew larger. I had no idea of when it would bloom, but I knew that the blooms only last ONE night. Articles online had described it as "the most beautiful flower in the world". "Smells strongly of vanilla" claimed another writer. I could hardly wait!

This past Sunday night I noticed a few of the outer tendrils beginning to open. But would the flower open tonight -- or tomorrow night? I went to bed at 9.

Around 2:30 AM, I woke up and had a feeling I really should get out of my nice, soft, warm bed and go downstairs to check on the plant. Wowzer! If a space alien had landed on my patio, I wouldn't have been more amazed! This thing looked like a super waterlily on steroids! I had to restrain myself from shouting to wake up the entire neighborhood. I wanted to call everybody. The newspaper. The police. But then I'd probably be hauled off to the nut house, so I didn't.

It was chilly. It rained lightly. I had on my fuzzy jammies and robe, but had to also put on a winter coat - and pull up the hood. My 2 cats kept me company. I took lots of digital photos. But did I dare to try and paint it -- in the middle of the night -- lit by the sodium vapor porch light? What the hell -- go for it (my general attitude about everything). I held a birch panel in one hand and painted one rendition, using 3 colors: white, black and cadmium yellow pale.

Time marched on. Eventually all my neighbors got up for work. I snagged them all and enticed them over. Everybody loved it. We all agreed, though, that it did NOT smell like vanilla at all. It smelled like shampoo.

Daylight came. The flower hung on. Why not paint a second plein air? I used a 9x12" canvas and my full palette of colors. Finally about 10:30 AM, both the flower and I were wilting. I went upstairs, plugged in my earplugs and took a 2-hour nap.

Later in the day, I worked a little more on the painting. Notice the bat. I'd read that bats pollinate these flowers. I kind of felt sad to finish this one. It was SO much fun!

Thanks for looking!