A botanical artist in Ithaca, New York keeps the city perennially in bloom with her large outdoor murals.
In Ithaca city in central New York artist Kellie Cox-Brady creates detailed botanical paintings that are inspired by the region’s native plants. There’s nothing extraordinary about this. Daffodils once moved Wordsworth to lyrical heights and sunflowers offered Van Gogh an outlet for his burgeoning talent. Flowers and artists go together. Yet Kellie’s art is noteworthy because her murals are detailed botanical paintings; often 20ft high and conceived on outdoor walls and public spaces.
Determination, talent and drive are all essential endowments of the ambitious and successful. But making it your lifelong dream to paint giant-sized murals in major cities across the world requires an additional effort.
Kellie says she just likes to think big. She adds, “I have been a life-long artist. Many family members including my parents and grandparents taught me the skills of the art I know today. Throughout high school I took many art classes.” She actually graduated from the University of Delaware with a Bachelors degree in Landscape Horticulture and Plant Science.
Eventually she learned to combine her two loves – art and horticulture – into detailed botanical paintings and illustrations. But it was only last year that the 26-year-old discovered her passion for installing murals. “When I am installing botanical murals, I often think of the times when I was a young child with plants surrounding me constantly including trees and large perennials. They seemed so large to me then and I love recreating those memories into my murals. It also reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, especially when I am doing the extra large sized plants!”
Kellie works all by herself on the outdoor murals, spending hours atop a ladder. Initially, the wall is primed with several layers. This is followed with a freehand drawing of the entire mural and then comes the major part of colour filling and detailing. If there’s any feeling that creating these large outdoor murals is a daunting task, Kellie doesn’t let on.
Armed with her ladder, gallons of exterior paint and brushes, she proceeds to transform stolid concrete into fertile fields of flowers. “There’s little maintenance needed for any of my murals, including the Seneca Garage mural. For the outdoor murals, I use exterior acrylic paint that lasts over 30 years, and I also install a varnish that will help keep it bright and clean for even longer.”
Kellie’s botanical murals at Cornell University and La Tourelle Resort & Spa have also played an unexpected role in educating locals about their native plants. Observing the magnified lilacs, blueberries, irises and other plants in the murals, day after day, has left viewers more informed about petal formation, leaf shapes, textures and other details that may have gone unnoticed prior to the murals.
As a horticulturist, Kellie hopes her murals will inspire locals to introduce more native plants into their gardens. “Native plants are important towards the preservation of our local ecology. Our wildlife depends greatly on these plants for their food, habitat and more. Native plants are also important in reducing water runoffs and the beautiful landscape created is of course a delight for one and all.”
Meanwhile, the Black-eyed Susan mural on the Seneca garage wall has been somewhat of a good luck charm for the stores across the road and Kellie is hugely encouraged by the response to her work. “The shopkeepers said there’s been more shopper traffic in the area and business has been great. Many people have said the mural has inspired them to create artworks of their own and expand on their gardening as well.”
When winter arrives and Ithaca is plugged with snow, Kellie’s murals will light up the city with warmth and sunshine and offer hope of a spring to come.
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Courtesy The Artist