A Brush with Henschel: Fireweed

Loacal artist Gordon Henschel shares his love for wildflowers.

  • Aug. 16, 2012 7:00 a.m.

My wife, Ann and I love gardening, mixing the veggie plants with all sorts of flowers. In the front of the gallery is a brilliant display of nasturtiums that seed themselves each year and provide an addition to our salads. I enjoy them all, hanging baskets, potted plants of every kind and even the dandelions and buttercups on the lawn!

These all pale into insignificance, though, because of my infatuation with wildflowers. It all starts off very slowly in the spring with the salmonberry and elderberry blossoms, gravitating slowly to dazzling displays of yellow Broom juxtaposed with the blues of Lupins, Columbine along the rivers and creeks, followed by daisies and thimbleberry blossoms everywhere!

In late July and August the annual display is surpassed by a flower that has not been given a name that gives homage to its beauty, the Fireweed. I have had a longstanding love affair with this fiery beauty, painting it every summer for 38 years.

Back in 1979, when large clear-cuts were still permitted, I painted, in oils, entire valleys that were bathed in pinks, mauves and reds, depending on how the light hit them. Each year I painted with hot colours, sometimes in intense heat and other times on misty days, but always with a passion that only a lover can possess.

One of my favourite spots was a clear-cut along Nimpkish Lake with picture postcard views of a hillside covered with fireweed and the lake in the background; however, these kinds of spots are short-lived since the fireweed plant only survives as long as it has open sunlight. Once the new growth begins, it begins its demise. Each year I have to go on a search for new clear-cuts!

In this painting the hillside upon which the stump and fireweed exist is above Theimer Lake. I did this painting from sketches and photos I had from two years ago. Wanting to revive my feeling for this spot, I drove out there last week to find the road had been de-activated through destruction of the bridge that had carried me across the creek. I back-packed my way across the creek and up the hill only to find that the young trees were de-activating my fireweed! Oh well, on to another clear-cut!

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