It has been a very cold, dreary few days. But today I got to walk out into the yard to feel the sunshine while taking off the sheets covering my sensitive plants. Which brings me to my painting: Small Glories: The Camellia. I do have a connection to this one, which means I have a story. Of course, camellias are such a wonderful flower. They bloom when nothing else is blooming. They shine when the days are short, and cold, and grey! And they outdid themselves this year.
But that is not my "connection" to this special flower. There is "the rest of the story"! In between my teaching gigs, I worked as Office Manager for my family's dental clinic. During that time, I made a connection with a man named Bryan Bohn, the man who did all the laboratory work for the practice. Bryan Bohn, or Brownie, as he was called, had been my father's lab man forever. I knew him from as early as I had memories. When I would, as a child, go to work with my father, one of the things I got to do was go with the assistant to take the lab work to Brownie. Brownie had his lab in the Hancock Bank building (now referred to as the old wing of the Hancock Bank). I got to ride up in this old elevator and go into a room with these interesting machines give the work to a man who looked like he could be Santa's helper. He was short, and wore spectacles and a white lab coat. He had all these little instruments around everywhere. He always stopped what he was doing and gave me a lot of attention for coming to visit him. He was a character.
Fast forward twenty something years, and I get to know Brownie as an adult, or as I might say, a grown up. This is where the camellia connection comes in. I was delivering Christmas presents for the office and my father. One of these delivers was to Brownie's house to deliver daddy's special gift of select steaks. My grandfather had managed a meat packing business, so my father knew all about select steaks and they were his special gifts. When I drove up to Brownie and his wife, Mrs. Louise's, house, the first thing I noticed was his camellia bushes. At Christmas time, many of them were in full bloom. They were beautiful! And so I told them so! Connection!
I received a tour of their yard and was introduced to every bush. Now, this was a special treat because they were not just ordinary camellias. You see, Brownie liked to create his own variety of camellias by cross pollination. All these plants were varieties he had created. As we walked through the yard, he told me about each variety and how he created them. Now I was fairly new to plants, but I was fascinated. He especially got my attention when he told me that he named all his plants after his dogs. About this time his dog came running up to greet me. Here was a three-legged, average looking, pound adopted, but incredibly happy, much loved, joyful dog. Having recently been asked to serve on the board for the local Humane Society, I knew how hard it was to find this kind of dog a home. I was so excited to knw someone who not only adopted one of our dogs, but named all his special, beautiful plants after them.
I had embraced watercolor painting at this time, and asked Brownie if I could take pictures of the flowers. I wanted to paint them. And I did paint them. I painted three of his special camellias. I had prints made of them, but I kept the paintings for myself. I have a connection to them. They hang in my house today; beat up and little mold riddled, but survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
I continued to go by and see Brownie and Mrs. Louise, even after I went back to teaching. We always enjoyed talking plants and art. Brownie had to retire from his laboratory because he was loosing his eyesight. He didn't stop though, he decided he would use his talents and create bird sculptures from porcelain. He told me he was creating a Yellow Bellied Woodpecker and wanted me to paint it. I explained that I had never seen a yellow woodpecker and didn't know anything about painting porcelain. Then he showed me his John James Audubon's print of the Yellow Bellied Woodpecker and told me he trusted me to do it. I don't know if I did a very good job, but he was determined and there was no way I was going to tell him no.
One day Brownie told me he and Mrs. Louise just couldn't take care of all his camellias anymore. He had contacted Mississippi State University about donating them to their horticulture department. Before he did, he wanted me to have one of them. He gave me a small specimen, the Katie Bohn Camellia. I took it and planted it outside the bedroom window of my new house. The house I live in today.
Not long after, Brownie's health went down and he passed away. Before I could go back to visit and see if his camellia found a new home, Hurricane Katrina hit. His house was a block off the beach just west of the Port of Gulfport. This area was hit extremely hard by the storm. By the time I was able to go by, I saw that everything around had been leveled. I have hoped many times that Mississippi State was able to come and get those special camellias before the storm. Mrs. Louise's health forced her to go live with her niece. Hurricane Katrina separated us from so many of our connections. But it didn't kill my camellia. Even though this special little plant, of a special variety of camellia, went fourteen feet under water with the Katrina tidal surge, she continues to thrive today in my backyard. Sometimes, I have thought that if I ever had to move, I would dig it up and take it with me. Then I look at it and say, no, it has found it's "spot"! When I'm gone, maybe someone will know her story and how special she is. That they will concect !
So during this isolated, pandemic time, I again painted this beautiful, special variety of camellia. One who was created by a special man, and named for a three-legged dog. I give you The Katie Bohn
Thanks for connecting,