Botanicals: California Arts and Crafts

California Coastal and Chaparral Wildflowers

California wildflower tiles

The desire to go home is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. ~ Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise

These ceramic tiles are based on the botanical watercolors hand painted by Albert Robert Valentien between 1898 and 1918. You can find most of these flowers at the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens in Mission Canyon. Valentien painted 1094 California botanicals on a commission by Ellen Browning Scripps between 1908 and 1918. The first ten of the original watercolors were introduced on exhibit in summer 2016 at the library of the San Diego Natural History Museum, with other watercolors rotated seasonally. Valentien's work is steeped is steeped in California history and I couldn't visit the exhibit without imagining missions with tidy tips coming through the cracks in the adobe, and settlers dreaming of gold next to California poppies.

California is home to more than 7000 native species, of which one-fourth are endemic, not found elsewhere. The flowers represented in this collection are California native species found in and around Ventura and Santa Barbara County, but some are found throughout the state. Some, such as the Matilija Poppy is a Santa Barbara variant of the California native species.

I am currently working on this section. Coming: Blazing Star, Seaside Daisy, Jimson Weed, Indian Paintbrush.

Channel Islands Wildflowers

lavatera asurgentiflora Island Mountain Lilac Sun Cups

Island Mallow (Lavatera Assurgentiflora) is native to the Santa Barbara Islands. It looks like a tropical plant but is drought tolerant. It has has a very long bloom season. Its relative, Lavatera Maritima, was not painted by Valentien but as my favorite variant warrants a mention -- It also a Channel Islands native and is hardy to 20 degrees F. Its flowers resemble a cross between a hibiscus and a hollyhock, with deep fuschia purple throats and pale purple petals. Both like sun but they like their feet cool and will grow to 10 feet or more.

Island Mountain Lilac does well along the coast and dislikes cold temperatures. It is considered "deer candy", and will grow in clay or decomposed granite.

Sun Cups, an evening primrose, grows in sandy soils along the California and Oregon coast, on mountain sandbars, and even in the Mojave desert.

Calystigia morning glory Humboldt Lily California Polypody

Island Morning Glory. Calystegia is a perennial morning glory vine found on the Channel Islands and also on the California coast from Monterey County southward. It can climb to more than 30 feet, or grow as a herbaceous ground cover. Its triangular leaves may be over 4 inches wide. Its two-inch flowers bloom in masses for a long growing season.

Humboldt Lily The Humboldt Lily is very threatened. It's home is the Channel Islands, but is occasionally found in protected areas of Coastal cand inland California.

California Polypody is found in the lush fern banks on shaded canyons and streamsides. The leaves curl and break off at the base in anticipation of seasonal rains. Its knotty extremities on the rhizomes are its "many feet", hence the name Polypodium Californicum.

Coastal Chapparal Wildflowers

Splendid Mariposa Lily Blue flax tidy

Splendid mariposa lily is a perennial herb that is native to California. It is found only slightly beyond California borders. It grows in chaparral and grasslands. Native peoples roasted the bulb for eating. The mariposa lily, with its many variations, was a favorite subject for Valentien. There are more than 60 species of mariposa lily in California alone, with varying colors, spots, and hairs. Valentien painted 30.

Blue flax is scattered throughout California, especially along trails and roadsides. It is breathtaking in mass. When the wind blows through fields of it near Jalama Beach, it looks like an inlet of the Pacific.

Tidy tips habitats are found throughout California, from Northwest California through the Central Valley and into Southern California. They bloom in mass in April and May.

bicolor lupine California Thistle California wild rose

Bi-color lupine - The bi-color lupine is also called Miniature Lupine. It is about the same height as the California poppy, with whom it likes to travel, at 10-12 inches tall. You can see whole hillsides of it, but it just as often is mixed with poppies and tidy tips.

California Thistle - The California Thistle can reach 6 to 8 feet. It is slightly more slendar than its relative, the Western Thistle. California Thistle grows in distrubed places and on dry slpes in coastal sage chapparal and southern oak woodlands that are somewhat set back from the coast. Look for it on the Valley side of San Marcos Pass and in Ojai.

California wild rose grows beside creek beds and on sunny slopes. They bloom all summer and have deep red hips during the winter months.

Santa Barbara matilija poppy.  The pods are not furry on the Santa Barbara native. Wooly Leaf Ceanothus wild pea

Santa Barbara matilija poppy -- This variety, Romneya Coulteri, is fairly uncommon and grows in only four southern California coastal counties. Flowers can be up to eight inches across, the largest of any native California plant. It grows larger than the hairy Matilija poppy that grows from Baja California to Ventura County. The variety you see in gardens is usually the unhairy variety. I've seen then roadside on Mountain Drive, but many on Refugio Road on the beach side, as you drive inland to the Santa Ynez Valley.

Wooly Leaf Mountain Lilac is a native to several mountain ranges in California and Baja. It has violet blue flowers and shiny leaves. Its seeds can lie dormant for hundreds of years. Quail like them. Forest fires trigger their germination. You'll see them on the fire road behind Cedros Saddle and on the trail to Hurricane Deck.

Wild pea grows in dry shaded places below 5000 feet, in oak woodlands and chaparral. It is easily found on East Camino Cielo, Mountain Drive in Montecito and the Santa Ynez Valley.

Chaparral mallow yellow coreopsis sky lupine

Chaparral mallow blooms in early April. You'll see it along East Camino Cielo and also at the back of Kinevan Ranch (No Trespassing!) and along the east slope of Figueroa Mountain if you go the Happy Canyon way.

California Tickseed (Yellow Coreopsis var Californica) has dark green leaves that only grow at the base, with reddish leafless stems with a single flower at the top. They produce short, brownish fruit.

Sky Lupine - Lupine varieties grow throughout the continental U.S. Sky lupine (Lupinus Nanus) covers many of the fields from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz, and inland to the Sierras. It also grows in Nevada, and on slopes in eastern Oregon.

Coast manzanita. You can identify it from the inland bush manzanita because its leaves curl under. Thimbleberry Western wood strawberry

Coast manzanita has dark green leaves which are gray and densely hairy underneath. The wood is hard and reddish. The Coast Manzanita's leaves curl under; the leaves of the inland variety do not.

Thimbleberry. The fruit are small, but the thimbleberry has no prickles. It's found throughout California.

Western Wood Strawberry. The Wood Strawberry is found in partial shade in forests. Although not shown, it's fruit is what you would expect, although smaller than cultivated varieties.

California ladyslipper California blackberry lewisa cotyledon

California Ladyslipper. This orchid grows along moist slopes and along stream banks in central and northern California. Its habitat is threatened by over-logging and over-collecting. New plants are very few and far between.

California Blackberry or Rubus Ursinus grows throughout California and Oregon. They are eaten by songbirds, deer, bear, squirrels and is larval food for the western tiger swallowtail butterfly and others. Some Native American peoples used it as a medicinal plant.

Lewisa Cotyledon can be found clinging to rocky outcrops, wedged into crevices, and in cracks on canyon walls. Its candy-stripe flowers rest against dark green leaves. It's a threatened species in northern California.

fire poppy baby blue eyes California golden poppy

Fire poppy. Papaver Californicum is an annual whose seeds can lie dormant for a long time. It is found on burned hillsides and in other places that have suffered disturbances, such as landslides.

Baby blue eyes is found in many habitats, among them meadows, chaparral, desert washes, and slopes. It can be sky blue with white centers, or blue-veined with dots.

California golden poppy. The California poppy grows in every county in the state. It's a self-seeding annual but sometimes resprouts from its taproot. Fairies use the flower pod cover for hats. The golden color is most common but you'll also see pale sunshine yellow and white variations.

Five Spot Phacelea Grandiflora Foothill Penstamon

Five Spot is an annual that throws throughout California. In the wild, it is found in the Sierra foothills but can be seen throughout California.

Phacelia Grandiflora is hairy and coated in soft and stiff hairs. It is native to the coastal hills and mountain ranges of southern California and Baja California.

Foothill Penstamon is also called Beardstongue. It is endemic to California and can be found in the coastal mountain ranges and Sierra Nevada foothills. The flowers can be range from blue to purple to almost magenta.

A.R. Valentien: The backstory

AR Valentien vase for Rockwood Pottery, Cincinnati

AR Valentien spent most of his life working in ceramics. Born in Cincinnati in 1862, he became interested in pottery at 16, affiliating himself with Coultry and Wheatley potters. A testament to his skill even then, Wheatley himself taught him underglaze. In underglaze, a clear glaze is applied over the decorator's painting, giving the image a reflective quality reminiscent of an oil painting. By 1881, at age 19, Valentien was the first decorative staff hired by Rockwood Pottery and worked for more than 20 years. He developed many of the techniques that made Rockwood famous for its distinctive style of underglaze.

A vase made at Rockwood has the individuality of a fine painting. It is designed, decorated and signed by the artist just as a canvas is. ~Rockwood Pottery advertisement

Such an advertisement would have warmed the hearts of Morris and his Pre-Raphaelite friends.

At Rockwood, Valentien strongly favored the famous Sea Green and Iris ware. In the Iris ware, vases and pots were decorated with flowers and foliage only, focusing in the classical botanical fashion without any background detail.

Valentien met Anna Marie Bookprinter, also a student at Cincinnati Art Academy. In 1884, she joined him at Rockwood and three years later they were married. Although she worked as a decorator at Rockwood for 21 years, sculpture was her true love, however. She exhibited a life-sized Ariadne at the Chicago Expo in 1893 and won a gold medal for her Hero Waiting for Leander at the Atlanta Expo in 1895.

At the same time, Albert was making a name for himself and Rockwood: "I was the the first regularly employed decorator -- and served in the capacity of chief decorator for the period of 24 years during which time I originated and eveloped many of the cxhief effects which have made that institution famous throughout the world." Many of the decorators at Rockwood were trained at the Cincinnati School of design as painters and artists. The school offered classes in decorative design that emphasized plant anatomy. Albert himself began sketching in 1900 in the Black Forest, while traveling for Rockwood. In 1901, he shifted his attention more to flower painting than pottery.


California Flora

In 1903, Albert and Anna Marie traveled to San Diego to visit her brother, Charles, and with the stated purpose of seeing the California wildflowers they'd heard so much about. During his eight-month visit, he painted 150 local species, including manzanita, lilac, and matilija poppy. His paintings were exhibited at the State Normal School in San Diego, where he first met Ellen Browning Scripps, who would later commission his plant portraits of California. The Valentiens returned to Cincinnati and Rockwood, but by now, California was in their hearts. They resigned their positions at Rockwood in 1905 and moved to San Diego in 1908. It was then that Ellen Browning Scripps commissioned an artistic compendium of the flora of California.

Between 1908 and 1918, Valentien traveled throughout California and into southern Oregon, sketching and collecting native plants. California has several distinctive habitats which include: coastal scrub, chaparral, high and low deserts, oak woodlands, vernal pools, riparian, mountain meadows and fresh water marshes, and so on. Nearly all of these are represented in Valentiens watercolors. Albert painted the flowers exactly as he found them, in sunlight and with natural flaws such as broken twigs, broken leaves, missing petals or holes due to insect damage. Of the 1094 known plant portraits, several small species may be combined on a single 20 x 13 inch page.


Valentien Pottery Works

In the off season, when he was not traveling and painting, Valentien returned to San Diego. The soils surrounding San Diego are rich in minerals (pegmatite and feldspar) necessary for porcelain and the Valentiens wished to start a pottery works. Working with his friend and fellow potter, Albert Solon, who had moved to California at the same time as the Valentiens, Various problems with the kiln and employees plagued the early endeavours, and eventually Valentien decided to focus on tile-making. Some of the tiles in the dome of the California Building in Balboa Park may be Valentien tiles, but no documentation exists for this. Envisioned as a west coast center for arts and crafts pottery, the story of the Valentien pottery is one of misfortunes and betrayals that ended badly: "More than $20,000 have already been expended on the pottery, and nothing to show for it...." (AR Valentien to Albert Solon, September 1913).


Tile Specifications and Pricing

Title: California Native Wildflowers

Tile: Ceramic

Size: 6 inch square tiles


Ceramic Tiles

4.25 inch square tiles: $54

6 inch square tiles: $65

8 inch square tiles: $78

Tumbled Marble Stone Tiles

4 inch square tiles: $62

6 inch square tiles: $77


Other Botanical Tiles

California and Pacific Northwest Ferns and Wildflowers

California Native Trees

Victorian Botanicals: Flower Garden

Medieval Herbs and Vegetables

Early Medieval Medicinals

Charles Rennie Mackintosh Flowers