I have been watching a single daffodil grow at the Woodson Art Museum for the last six weeks. It was a sign of the changing seasons – the slow melt of winter giving way to the newly discovered warmth of spring and my first transition of seasons as a newly minted Wisconsinite. Its location on the Museum’s campus – it is tucked behind the tumbling ursine forms of sculptor Dan Ostermiller’s Boys Will Be Boys, visible only by peeking from the landing of the lower-level small-scale sculpture gallery area – is a reminder of the small details we begin to see as we become familiar with a place.
The daffodil bloom’s transience and location put me in mind of the small watercolors of artist Fidelia Bridges. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1834, Bridges was one of the pre-eminent watercolor artists of her time and a member of the American Watercolor Society. A portfolio album of the artist’s work and I arrived at the Woodson Art Museum at nearly the same time. The album contains a stunningly intricate set of 97 watercolor drawings; each is rendered with unaffected joy in the minute observation of the natural world. The sketches range from lush scenes of verdant summers to cherry-blossom-festooned spring vignettes to reminders of the scarcities of winter.
This selection of seasonal scenes is unsurprising for those familiar with her work. Bridges was especially well-known for her collaboration with publisher Louis Prang from Boston. Of these collaborations, The Months for Mr. L. Prang was one of the most successful. Nestled within the Woodson’s portfolio, there is a single work entitled “May” – a preliminary sketch for the final calendar page. Finding it reminded me of how, like the daffodil, there is always an unexpected joyful detail in becoming familiar with something new, be it a place or an art collection.
I’ll now and forever associate this little drawing with the blooming of that single daffodil in our sculpture garden and the coming of May in Wisconsin.