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Frida Kahlo's work reveals beauty in nature.

Byline: Beth Earnest Daily Herald correspondent

Anyone who is familiar with Frida Kahlo's work knows just how important the Mexican painter's garden was to her. Flowers, fruits, vegetables and other plants are constants in many of her most well-known works, and she is famous for her painstaking attention to detail with those plants.

"Frida Kahlo 2020," an exhibit opening at College of DuPage's (COD's) Cleve Carney Museum of Art and McAninch Arts Center (MAC) in May, will feature 26 original pieces by Kahlo on loan from Museo Dolores Olmeda. But the Glen Ellyn exhibit will also include a garden designed by West Chicago-based Ball Horticultural Co. The garden will celebrate Kahlo's love for nature and her depictions of that beauty.

Diana Martinez, director of the MAC, wanted to use the building's natural architecture to add even more ambience to the exhibit. The MAC has an outdoor patio that can be viewed from the inside reminiscent of Kahlo's garden, which was like a patio with many potted plants

and could be viewed from her studio.

"I wanted to give people the whole Frida experience,' " said Martinez. "We're going to have a concession area, and our visitors will be able to take their food into the garden and see what Frida saw."

Martinez and Ball leaders first talked about the idea last summer, which gave the horticulturists less than a year to put together a garden that would normally take 15 to 18 months to plan. The Ball folks have jumped in with both feet, however. Rachel Prescott, Ball's grounds and gardens production manager, has been using her considerable network of contacts to acquire and grow as many native Mexican plants as possible.

Out of the 25 different plants that will be showcased in the garden, the majority are the exact species that Kahlo depicted in her paintings. The rest are flowers and plants that grew in her garden or are native to Mexican gardens.

The final display, which features several hundred plants, will include zinnias, marigolds, dahlias, alocasias, philodendrons and cactuses. The cactuses were by far the most difficult plants to acquire, said Prescott. "When you see an 8-foot cactus in the desert, it took years for it to grow that tall," she said. "Most of the rest of our plants we grew from seed or vegetated propagation, but for the cactuses, we had to source the finished product."

There will be four main elements to the design, which will encompass much of the MAC:

* Colorful flowers will fill planters that surround the MAC.

* The MAC's entrance has a canopy that offers lots of shade, so the shade-loving tropicals will go there.

* The patio has full sun, so it will feature zinnias, marigolds and other heat-loving annuals.

* The COD theater department is recreating a pyramid from Kahlo's house. The structure will be surrounded by succulents and cactuses all of which will be safely out of the reach of children.

Of course, all the plants will be labeled so visitors can easily identify them. "The plants that we chose and that are reflected in Frida's work are all accessible to people in the Midwest," said Katie Rotella, Ball's public relations manager. "This is something they could attain in their own space. I really feel people are going to be inspired. Perhaps some of our visitors will choose to paint their own gardens as Frida did."

In mid-May, Prescott and her team will be transferring the plants they have nurtured at Ball to the MAC. Over the course of a week, they will transport the garden's elements and artfully arrange them so they perfectly complement the exhibit.

They'll have help students from COD's horticulture program will work side by side with the professionals from Ball to install the plants.

"We're so grateful and thrilled that we have such an incredible partner in Ball to make this right," said Martinez. "There is no one better to do this project than them."
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Title Annotation:Home Garden
Author:Earnest, By Beth
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Apr 5, 2020
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