In parts of the maritime live oak forest of Little St. Simons Island, narrow swales between remnant dune ridges widen into sunny freshwater wetlands. Willow and Flag Ponds are the largest of these. They look more like marshes than ponds, and, like the smaller swales can be wet or dry depending on rainfall. They host a wide array of wetland plants such as pickerelweed, cattails, and willows, as well as plumegrass, broomsedge, and great swaths of wood sage.
But it is the swamp hibiscus that is the unequivocal jewel of these ponds. In the dead of August, the muggiest, buggiest time of year, their pink, dinner-plate size blooms grace the ponds with a show that makes the rest of the island feel almost dull.
Hunting for compositions among giant blossoms and stalks towering as much as twelve feet high was a new experience for me. Although I’m over six feet tall, I felt like a Lilliputian. On those visits, whether in sandals or rubber boots, I always went slowly and cautiously, stamping on the wet ground or splashing in shin-deep water so as not to surprise any cottonmouth snakes or alligators. Instead of them, I fondly recall finding a tiny green treefrog, barely noticeable among the large hibiscus leaves, and a bright green anole basking in the sun on one of the giant pink flower petals.
After a number of visits at various times of day, I began to see how I might compose a view that could capture my experience of the place. The hibiscus would need to appear as the tall, oversize plants that they are, but they would also need to be crowding into the foreground. At the same time there should be enough of an open view to show the size of the pond, and if possible, the reflection of water underneath. And because the whole place gets completely washed out by the strong summer daylight, it would need to be very early or very late—and I hoped, with clouds.
As dawn broke one August morning, I headed with camera and painting box straight to the section of Flag Pond where I knew the hibiscus were in full bloom, and where they would be tall enough to be imposing but short enough that I could see over them to the edge of the forest and the eastern sky. Knowing the camera would fall short in recording the experience, I made a small field painting to help me remember it when working on the larger canvas later.
Adapted from: The Wild Treasury of Nature: A Portrait of Little St. Simons Island, Philip Juras, UGA Press, 2016, pages 23-24.
Swamp hibiscus/ swamp rosemallow (Hibiscus grandiflorus)
Studio painting – March.
February 20 - May 22, 2016
Morris Museum of Art
July 9 - September 11, 2016
Marietta Cobb Museum of Art
Lodge at Little St. Simons Island
St. Simons Island, Georgia
Published in conjunction with Philip’s 2016 exhibition at the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia, and the Marietta Cobb Museum of Art, Marietta, Georgia. Contributors include: Philip Juras, essay and artwork; Wendy Paulson, foreword; Kevin Grogan, introduction; Dorinda Dallmeyer, essay; and Janice Simon, essay. Published by the University of Georgia Press, 2016.