Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy Presents Sophia McCrocklin Ferns of Dumbarton

By Editorial Team on April 25, 2022
Courtesy of Sophia McCrocklin.
Symposium: Thursday, May 12 from 6:30pm to 8pm
 NEW Symposium DATE: Thursday, June 2 from 6:30 to 8pm

Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy presents an exhibition of 11 large-scale fiber sculptures and several pen and ink drawings by Sophia McCrocklin, from her Ferns of Dumbarton collection, from April 4nd – June 23rd at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, to mark the 100th anniversary of the garden of Dumbarton Oaks Park in Georgetown.

The If Ferns Could Talk Symposium about the exhibition will be held on 6:30 – 8pm Thursday, May 12th at The Writer’s Center.

The If Ferns Could Talk Symposium about the exhibition will be held on 6:30 – 8pm Thursday, June 2 at The Writer’s Center.

Sophia McCrocklin was the first Artist in Residence of the Conservancy’s Art in the Park program from 2017-2019. Her botanical fiber sculptures document sixteen of the fern varieties McCrocklin discovered to have grown in Dumbarton Oaks over the past century. Eleven of these were chosen for this exhibit along with several pen and ink drawings. Every piece is made of Dacron and copper wire that is sewn by hand and machine, painted, and meticulously cut to scale with exquisite detail. The work is then mounted on canvas that is painted with cherry blossoms, as a nod to those that bloom in the garden during the spring. Each fern takes about six months to complete and is either 4.5 feet square or approximately 2.5 feet wide by 7 feet tall. McCrocklin’s collection highlights the elegance and tenacity of these ancient plants, which have endured as a species for over 300 million years.

The If Ferns Could Talk Symposium explores what we can learn from these ancient plants today. Speakers include: Julia Washburn, Superintendent of Rock Creek Park; Eric Schuettpelz, Research Botanist, Chair of Botany, Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian; Josh Tolkin, Sierra Club Director for the State of MD; Jeanne Braha, Executive Director for Rock Creek Conservancy; Lindsey Milstein and Liza Gilbert, Board Co-Chairs of Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy; and Sophia McCrocklin, Artist in Residence, Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy.

Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy was established in 2010 to restore Dumbarton Oaks Park in partnership with the Rock Creek Park, National Park Service (NPS). The 27-acre Park is one of the most notable wild garden landscapes in the country, designed by Beatrix Farrand, America’s first professional female landscape architect and a founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. The Park is an NPS designated National Historic Register site – a designed landscape of meadows and woodlands surrounding a stream with 18 small waterfalls. More information on the Park and its history can be found at dopark.org. The Conservancy established the Art in the Park program in 2016. The exhibit and associated programs are the culmination of our first Artist in Residence program, which continues the Bliss tradition bringing Art to the public.

McCrocklin was born in New York City and raised in the Appalachian foothills of Kentucky, graduated from Smith College, studied textiles at Penland School of Crafts, earned a law degree from the University of Louisville and practiced environmental law at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC. McCrocklin was awarded three Artist Fellowships from the DC Commission for Arts and Humanities from 2019-2022 for her work in this area.

Sophia McCrocklin‘s Ferns of Dumbarton

“My introduction to the world of ferns occurred when I was hiking in Rock Creek Park and accidentally stepped in a cluster of them. Concerned about my carelessness, I stopped to look more closely at the damage I caused. As I bent down, a miniature fern-forest with a few broken edges revealed itself. This mystical experience inspired me to create a larger version of the ferns facing me. I wanted to capture the majestic presence of these ancient plants and convey the importance of the often-overlooked world at our feet. I needed to look up at them.

As I began making these ferns, I found large clusters of them growing in the dense understory of Dumbarton Oaks Park. With the help of field guides and botanists from Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy and the National Park Service (NPS) I began to identify them. A few years later, as the Conservancy’s Artist-in-Residence, I began investigating the ferns more vigorously, studying planting lists, NPS plant surveys, and the Cultural Landscape Report of the Park. I also examined fern specimens at the Smithsonian’s National Herbarium and consulted with their research botanist and staff illustrator. Eventually I documented 16 fern species in the Park and created a collection representing these ferns. Eleven pieces from this body of work were selected for this exhibit along with numerous pen and ink drawings.

The process of creating each fern is complex and takes roughly six months. I begin each piece by photographing the fern in the woods. These images are later enlarged to help me to see the details of the fern without a microscope. I then draw the frond to-scale, seven to ten times its original size, on a piece of woven Dacron and cut it out. With my sewing machine, I sew the cut-out parts together and insert copper wire in the seams to support the stalk and the leaflets. Using tiny surgical scissors, I meticulously shape the edges of the leaflets. The leaflets are then hand sewn onto the fern stalk using pliers and upholstery thread to complete the fern sculpture. I then paint the fern with acrylics and use colored pencils to define its vascular system. Finally, I mount the fern on a canvas painted with the faint impressions of cherry blossoms, a nod to those that bloom uphill from where I found many of the ferns. Since 2014, I have completed 19 ferns and 5 samaras (“helicopter seeds”), and dozens of whimsical pen and ink drawings.

This exhibit was made possible through the generosity of Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy, The Writer’s Center, and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

To learn more visit www.SophiaMcCrocklin.com


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  • Saturday: 10am – 2pm

The Writer’s Center located at 4508 Walsh St, Bethesda, MD.