Hearts and Hands of the Garden: The Arts of the QBG Craft Group
Hands and Hearts of the Garden showcases pressed flower works by Pauline Schwartz and the QBG Craft Group along with a range of hand-made creations of lace, quilting, and needlework by Lynn McMahon. On display May 17 through September 18, 2011.
Upon viewing the exquisite creations presented here, many visitors may feel a sense of nostalgia, remembering days gone by. Pressed flower art, for example, is commonly associated with Victorian England. But its English roots go back further to the Elizabethan era. Earlier still, the Japanese created Oshibana, the art and craft of pressing flowers to retain the benefits and beauty of the living plant. Over the centuries, enthusiasm for this medium spread from Japan to England, through Europe, and on to the United States. And though true lace making was not seen much before the 15th century, rare examples dating back centuries before that exist. As these crafts made their way through time and from country to country, they retained their essential power to transfix the crafter and to captivate the viewer, beckoning us to pause and enjoy the beauty of the moment.
Queens Botanical Garden is fortunate to be the home of a remarkable group of individuals who are perpetuating these arts in our own time. The QBG Craft Group was founded in 1984 by the late Beatrice Schecter, a self-taught crafter and beloved leader. The Craft Group is a special circle of volunteers who play a unique role at the Garden. After lengthy professional careers in offices and classrooms, most members of the Craft Group are now retired. For many of them, retirement has allowed new talents and passions to be discovered and developed within this creative circle of friends and fellow crafters. Of special note is the fact that these volunteers donate all of the proceeds from sales of the work to QBG. Over the years, through this act of generosity, the QBG Craft Group has raised tens of thousands of dollars to support the Garden, truly giving of both hands and hearts.
Beatrice Schecter, Founder (deceased Oct 2009)
Nathalee Kaplan (deceased May 2010)
Pauline Schwartz Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1933, the fifth child of a family that emigrated from Poland to Berlin and then to New York, Pauline grew up in a Yiddish-speaking family in the Bronx. After high school, Pauline had a long working career that began at the Army Pictorial Center (now the Kaufman Studios in Astoria), an army post that made training films during WW II, up until 1971 when it closed.
In 1971, Pauline took a position with the U.S. Department of Labor, then working with the Department of Justice as they carried out a major investigation of organized crime in the labor unions. Pauline was later an executive secretary at the National Treasury Department, where she worked for the Comptroller of the Currency until her retirement in 1988. She has lived in Flushing since 1952.
Pauline has had a life long interest in crafting. As a child, she pursued crocheting, knitting, calligraphy and needle point work, learning from lessons offered by yarn stores, from books, and from fellow crafters. In her adult years, she was an avid calligrapher.
Pauline came to QBG in 1995 when her neighbor, who was a QBG Crafter, introduced her to flower pressing. Pauline was immediately drawn to the beauty and precision of the work and joined right in. She credits Iva Nieman, a member of the QBG group, with mentoring her as she honed her skills in this newly discovered medium. Those skills developed quickly; by 1998 she was entering her work into competitions and walking away with the top prizes.
In addition to opening a path to pursue her love for dried flowers, Pauline’s retirement years have allowed her to travel extensively to England, France, and Israel. She has also toured the Greek Isles, explored the Western United States and indulged in antiquing in Cape Cod and other New England locales.
Lynn McMahon Born in Brooklyn and raised in East Elmhurst, Queens, Lynn McMahon cannot remember a time when she was not busy making something with her hands. Always drawn to needlework, she taught herself to sew at home on the machine. She recalls always wanting to know how things worked, and she credits her father, who was very adept with his hands, with teaching her a great deal about mechanics and carpentry. Her mother used to say she had ten brains – one in each finger!
Lynn graduated from the Manhattan High School of Women’s Garment Trades with the intention of becoming a designer’s dress maker. That particular career never materialized for Lynn. Along with so many others, her plans were altered by the coming of World War II. She worked for a time as a spray painter at a ship manufacturer and later as an operator with the phone company.
But her true career began in June of 1964 when she began volunteering at QGB. A life-long gardener and self-taught plant expert, her first role at the Garden was to answer the many horticultural questions from the public over the phone and in person. Lynn has continued her relationship with QBG ever since.
These days, in addition to providing plant information to the public, Lynn covers the front desk and handles incoming mail. In addition to her extensive knowledge of plants and how to grow them, through her adult life Lynn’s passion for crafting has never waned, and she has continued to feed that passion by learning new skills and techniques. As a member of the Embroiders Guild of America, she studied with a Guild teacher for eight years and learned the ever-rarer art of lace making (bobbin lace).
Lynn now is passing this art on to new generations through classes she teaches here at QBG. She has also developed the skill of “scherenschnitt,” or paper cutting, along with knit lace, macramé lace, crochet lace, tatting – laces all but each with a different look. As though this were not enough, Lynn also founded and leads the QBG Quilters Group. With such a range of talents, she is often asked which craft most intrigues her. Her unhesitating answer is lace making, because it is closest to becoming a lost art.