Ode to the Washingtonians

With the recent opening of The Marker Hotel in Key West, and their use of a custom version of this piece in the guest rooms of the hotel, AND the acceptance of this piece in the Colored Pencil Society's online show Explore This! 10, it seemed like a good time to talk a bit about what inspired this work.

Many years ago, a flock of green parrots lived in the towering Washingtonian Palms standing guard along the perimeter of the Key West cemetery. The birds would fly in a small tight group circling above, landing in the tall palms where they would chatter and squawk. The parrots are long gone. And now most of the Washingtonians are gone too. But they live on in our heart. (And our art)

In addition to providing refuge for the parrots those trees were an integral part of Key West’s landscape. Like old friends you see on a daily basis, their presence provided beauty, continuity and comfort. As a result of their unobstructed height, their lofty leaves even provided us with a clear gage on wind speed and direction for the day’s windsurfing sessions!

As they were cutting the trees down early one morning, I rushed to Windsor Lane where young workers who were following orders were high up in a bucket, about to behead the last tree. I asked if they would be willing to cut one of the large leaves for me, along with a few flower spikes. They did so, and I dragged the 6-8’ long stems up Angela Street, tears rolling down my face.

I spent that week doing drawing studies and photographing each part of the tree’s miraculous flower and seed spikes. Then later, I worked to create the final drawings utilizing the photos and studies I did that week the trees were cut down.

As many artists know, one of the best ways to become intimate with a subject is to draw it. I learned a lot about those trees in the process. The work became a tribute to them, celebrating their presence in our lives and the beauty of their being.

About the drawing:

From below you can see the long flower spikes extending out from the crown and swaying in the breeze. Since the trees are so tall, the mystery that’s going on up there is impossible to know. When I was able to see and study it closely, the beauty of the process delighted and inspired me to document it in my drawing.

The green spikes first shoot out from the tree. Slowly they begin to crack open progressively up the stalk, revealing the flowers that have been maturing inside. The flower cluster grows, extending from the stalk and each one holds hundreds of tiny creamy yellowish-white blossoms that dangle on ivory yellow stems. The flowers eventually collapse into a bundle and transform into seeds. The stems, now holding the seeds, begin to dry and expand stretching out like fingers. The seeds gradually fall off, leaving the bare skeleton-like stems remaining.  All of these stages are portrayed in my drawing.

Giclée reproductions of this piece are available on this website.