WHISPER OF A WINDFLOWER

The Floriography of Valentina Fielder

One night in early summer of 1822, Valentina Fielder, a young botanist of extensive training, could not sleep. Images of roots, seeds, bulbs, pods and pistils crowded in her mind. She stepped out into the bright...

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The Magnificent Floriography of Valentina Fielder

One night in early summer of 1822, Valentina Fielder, a young botanist of extensive training, could not sleep. Images of roots, seeds, bulbs, pods and pistils crowded in her mind. She stepped out into the bright moonlight and, laying herself down beside her calla lilies, she breathed in the night air. Her body softened into the earth. She began to feel herself drawn to one flower, which stood out from all others… what she experienced then, as she placed her hand lightly over the blossom would inspire her life’s work. An excerpt from her notebook describes the event:

“June 9, 1822— …the full moon had set the garden aglow…. as I placed my hand faintly around the blossom just so, I could rightly get a ‘sense’ of it, its message and purpose… my calla lily revealed to me my own hidden, still vibrant forces.”

A wooden cabinet was recently unearthed containing over 127 of Valentina Fielder’s notebooks and loose sketches. Buried behind an abandoned shed in southern Indiana for 150 years, each notebook contained hundreds of Fielder’s blossom-in-hand drawings detailing specific approaches for communications with various plant species. So profound was her understanding of flowers that it is easily identifiable as the precursor to the later widespread practice of the Victorian floriography– in fact, her notebooks are remarkably consistent with the well-known Victorian Language of Flowers.

It would appear that the meaning of a flower was not at all an arbitrary sentiment assigned by humans in Victorian times but rather, it was the flowers themselves that revealed their essence to receptive individuals.

The Society for Nebulous Knowledge is pleased to preserve Valentina Fielder’s communicative exchanges with various flowers and plants. The techniques depicted in her delicate sketches have been carefully studied, enacted in the same full moonlight conditions Fielder describes, and reproduced in illustrative photographs, a selection of which is presented here for the first time.

 

  • To Hear the Young Sunflower's Soaring Thoughts (wrist release technique), by Fielder (ca. 1831)
    from the recovered notebooks detailing Fielder's methods for perceiving the messages of flowers.

  • To Sense Magnolia's Pride (closed eyes technique), a photographic
    re-enactment of Fielder's methods for perceiving the messages of flowers.

  • Listening for Baby's Breath by Valentina Fielder (ca. 1841)
    Fielder's instructional sculptures depicted methods for perceiving the messages of flowers.

  • For White Flowers Apply a Light Airy Gesture (naiveté, blind trust)
    a photographic re-enactment of Fielder's methods for perceiving the messages of flowers.

  • Lightest Encirclement of a Pink Blossom (mother's love),
    a photographic re-enactment of Fielder's methods for perceiving the messages of flowers.

  • A selection of Fielder's drawings, instructional sculptures and photographic re-enactments
    was displayed at the Grunwald Gallery of Art at Indiana University Bloomington, 2008.

  • Unknown, a photographic re-enactment of Fielder's methods for perceiving the messages of flowers.

  • Comforting the Evening Primrose (state of despair) by Valentina Fielder (ca. 1833)
    from the recovered notebooks detailing Fielder's methods for perceiving the messages of flowers.

  • Gathering Heather (protection), a photographic re-enactment of
    Fielder's methods for perceiving the messages of flowers.

  • Queen Anne's Lace Spreads Fertility (lift a single bud from the bouquet)
    a photographic re-enactment of Fielder's methods for perceiving the messages of flowers.

  • Listening to Evening Primrose (early morning technique) by Fielder (ca. 1829)
    from the recovered notebooks detailing Fielder's methods for perceiving the messages of flowers.

  • A selection of the recovered sketches and notebooks of Valentina Fielder,
    found in an abandoned hunting cabin in the woods, detailing Fielder's
    remarkable methods for perceiving the messages of flowers.

  • A selection of photographic re-enactments of Fielder's blossom-in-hand
    drawings was recently displayed at the Salem Art Center in Salem, Oregon.

  • Listening for Baby's Breath, (detail) instructional sculpture by Valentina Fielder, circa 1841

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