The art of science: New Stamford exhibit uses orchids to inspire activism

By Amanda Cuda

Saving the world seems like an insurmountable task. Patricia Laspino used to feel that way, too.

“I said to myself that same thing — ‘I’m just an artist. What can I do?’ ” says Laspino, who lives and works in North Haven. “But everybody can do something.”

For Laspino, that “something” was creating the Orchid Alliance Project, which uses art — specifically, artwork depicting orchids — to draw attention to environmental issues. “It’s a project that combines fine art with science so that people can learn more about nature, about the beauty and diversity of nature and the connection we humans have with nature,” Laspino says.

Dozens of her pieces depicting orchids will be on display at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center in the exhibition “Global Garden: Resonant Beauty.” The show includes 36 oil paintings, 10 drawings and three etchings. Laspino says she chose to use orchids as a metaphor for the beauty and importance of nature because they are so abundant.

According to the nonprofit Rainforest Alliance, there are 25,000 to 30,000 different species of orchid, at least 10,000 of which can be found in the tropics. Laspino says her research has shown that orchids exist on every continent except Antarctica, which makes them a good vessel for discussing a variety of environments.

“What this allows me to do is talk about China, England and South America, among other places, through these beautiful plants,” she says. “I thought this would be a great way to use art for advocacy.”

An artist for more than 40 years, Laspino’s painting are created through a distinctive process that involves using organic materials to make impressions on her canvas, that painting on dozens of layers of oil color glazes. Each painting, Laspino says “kind of develops an organic life unto itself. The light animates and creates color in the different layers.”

Laspino has been working with the nature center for more than two years to create the “Global Garden” show. The exhibition will be on display until April 25, and includes not just the artworks themselves, but also a series of artist’s narratives posted with the pictures that tell their stories.

Artist Patricia Laspino in front of her painting “Alice B.” Laspino’s work will be on display in the exhibit “Global Garden: Resonant Beauty,” which be on view in the Stamford Museum’s Bendel Galleries through April 25, 2021.

For instance, one particularly important work, “Marvelous S,” depicts the Marvelous Spatuletail hummingbird pollinating an orchid. In her artist’s narrative Laspino shares more information about the bird, and the perils it faces.

“The Marvelous Spatuletail is one of the world’s rarest hummingbirds; it is endangered and only occurs in the remote Utcubamba Valley in northern Peru,” the narrative reads. “There are fewer than 1,500 of these birds left in the wild.”

The narrative also discusses the rich tradition of orchids in Peru. “They have been highly prized by Peruvian cultures for thousands of years, by both pre-Inca and Incan peoples,” the description reads.

Laspino refers to her art as “soft activism,” as it can educate and inspire people, but also provide them with something beautiful and interesting to look at. She hopes the works in the Global Garden show help to create a new generation of activists.

“This project is not only for adults and collectors of art, it’s also to help kids as well connect with the arts and science,” she says. “Young people are our future. I hope this project is a benefit to our young people.”

The exhibition will be on view in the Stamford Museum’s Bendel Galleries through April 25. Gallery hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays, extending to a 5 p.m. close in February and thereafter. Throughout February, the Global Garden exhibition will feature “Saturdays with the Artist,” with Laspino on-site at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center from noon to 3 p.m.

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