Some of the amazing plants these days in Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are not alive.
In Bringing Respect to Nature: Exploring Plants in Paper, Lea Gray has produced some 20 creations that capture real plants, especially succulents, in card stock and Italian crepe paper. The artworks—some hung on the wall, others in terrariums or farms on pedestals—look so lifelike that visitors to the Cardinal Health Conservatory often ask, “Are they real?”
Gray, 39, a fine arts graduate at Columbus College of Art and Design, is a native of Sydney, Ohio, where her mother and grandmother instilled in her a love of plants. In her Worthington apartment, which is also her studio, she has nearly 50 live plants along with the ones she’s made.
“When you enter my house, you wonder what’s fake and what’s real,” she said.
Through her artwork, she said, she tries to “simulate exactly what is in nature.”
With the help of several helpers, Gray cuts the paper for her plants largely by machine, then assembles the pieces into planters or on a square or rectangular base before hanging the work on the wall. Finish the formulations by spraying the foliage plants with clear coat and even dry shampoo to improve or change colors.
In the “Agave Collection” of the wall-hung triptych, various species of blue and green shades are grouped together and enclosed in thick wooden frames that resemble a garden border.
‘Aeonium and Purple Pearl Echeveria’ groups these plants together tightly in a pot, with drooping tendrils.
‘Cascading Black Pine Bonsai’ is a small, graceful tree with machine-cut marginal leaves, a resin trunk, driftwood limbs, and a black sand base as ground.
A ‘Plant Conservation Collection’ is a large terrarium filled with a variety of succulents and other plants.
Gray said she came to her art form of origami.
“I was bored with origami and wanted something more expressive,” she said. “Someone asked me if I could make flowers for her mom on Mother’s Day. That was nine years ago.”
Her art and work took off, and she sees no end.
“The world of paper flowers is huge, but the strange thing is that it is underground. But I don’t know anyone else who makes succulents like me,” said Gray.
“I see myself doing this for the rest of my life. The more I do it, the better. And there is an endless supply of plants that I haven’t made yet.”
In a glance
Bringing Respect to Nature: Exploring Plants in Paper runs through May 31 at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, 1777 E Broad Street. Hours: 10am-5pm daily. Time tickets required. General admission: $19, or $16 for seniors, $12 for ages 3-12, free for age 2 or younger; $3 is available to participants in SNAP, EBT, WIC, or Medicaid. Call 614-715-8000 or visit fpconservatory.org.
Leah Gray will direct leaf gardening making classes on April 24, May 8, and May 22. For more information, visit fpconservatory.org.