Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A Book a Week #3 -A Painter's Year in the Forests of Bhutan

I can only imagine what it would be like to take a year off and trek into the wilds of the Bhutan forests. The author Dr A.K. Hellum originally travelled to Bhutan, which is between China and India, to consult on a forest management project in 1988 for an international aid agency and spent two years helping with forest research and reforestation.
 The drawings and paintings were initially completed in the field for meditation and concentration. Some fantastic stories were also recorded of various situations when painting - the people he encountered  and made contact with and events that became integral to his life in Bhutan. He was able to meet the "real" people of Bhutan.
This book is organised around the seasons, which are so integral to a tropical climate and the plants he discovered in the various seasons.
For two years almost every weekend was devoted to illustrating about 150 species and varieties of tropical forest plants, mainly from the northwest of Bhutan in the valleys and in the high passes. He painted through sun, rain, humidity and freezing temperatures and only occasionally added finishing touches inside of an evening.

The stories in this book are all true. "All were happenings that filled my days with gentleness, so many miracles large and small, and so much human sharing". Wonderful words.
I tell my students that botanical art is a meditative process, and Dr. Hellum has proven this through his Bhutan paintings.
There is a lot of information about the flora, some of which have rarely been seen, and their importance and richness to the local people.

This is such an easy and fascinating book to read, and to almost feel you are with Dr. Hellum and experiencing the extremes of temperature, the joy when discovering a new plant and the peace when drawing and painting it.
I love his Reflections at the end of the book. This is part of it: "Above all, my two years in Bhutan taught me about silence and listening. My life before Bhutan had been so busy, so crowded with duties, passions and noise.......If one word describes life in Bhutan for me it is silence. It took a long time for this silence to find passage into my subconscious".
For the author, Bhutan was a land of hundreds of Shangri-Las where every alpine meadow, every rocky trail and every forest was a Shangri-La and every human encounter a new adventure.

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