Alcatraz Florilegium: Petaluma campus showcases botanical art

Kyle Schmidt, Staff Writer


Hidden in the confines of California’s most famous prison, the beautiful bulbs, succulents and roses of Alcatraz were once punished with neglect.

With the proper assistance and repair from the Garden Conservancy and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the Northern California Society of Botanical Artists (NCSBA) is able to present “Alcatraz Florilegium: Gardens of Alcatraz,” revealing illustrations of the surviving flowers, trees and shrubs to the public at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Mahoney Library Gallery.

Project Manager Lyn Dahl said, “Once we started going out there [Alcatraz] a lot of the artists found it mystical.”

One of the inmates, Elliot Michener, who initially helped create the gardens at Alcatraz in 1948, wrote a letter to the warden expressing how he wanted to return to his garden. He wished for the warden to send him at least a rose from Alcatraz. Decades later, when he returned to the site, he wept in sight of the plants.

NCSBA Chair of Activities Nina Antze said, “We had our first exhibit on Alcatraz, but it’s hard to find venues that hold all the pictures.”

The botanical art exhibit at the Petaluma Campus showcases 31 of 59 unique botanical art pieces by artists around the United States. Each piece shows the dynamic colors of the vibrant unspoken history of the prison in beautiful colored pencils and paint.

At the exhibit there are featured poems by Alcatraz visitors around the globe inspired by an interpretive walk hosted by Mary Schumacher in 1991. The poems sat in storage untouched until NCSBA decided to collaborate with Schumacher. The poetry on display focuses on the contrast between the beautiful gardens and the harsh prison around them.

“They turned the gardens now into something breathtaking. Usually people want to go there to hear about Al Capone,” Dahl said.

The exhibit revealing the true hidden wonder of Alcatraz ends July 31.