By Mick Roberts
Gifted botanical illustrator Lesley Elkan has taken first prize in the prestigious Margaret Flockton Award.
Employed as an illustrator at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for 13 years, Lesley said winning an award named after a woman she admires greatly, is an honour.
The Sydney mum said that as a pioneering illustrator, Flockton was an inspiration to her and many other women in such a demanding career.
Ms Elkan, 35, had just returned from leave after spending time with her two-year-old daughter when she decided to enter the celebrated award. Her winning entry follows a second placing a number of years before.
For hundreds of years, scientific drawings have aided the visual identification of plants for botanists and plant enthusiasts.
Botanical illustration at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens began with the establishment of the herbarium in 1901, when Margaret Flockton was employed as an illustrator.
The life of the first and long-serving botanical illustrator at the Gardens went almost unrecognised for many years.
Ms Elkan said the consistent high quality of Flockton’s work is inspiring.
‘Her meticulous observation and flawless accuracy, was complemented by her fine sense of composition and scale,’ she said.
Flockton commenced work as an artist at the Gardens in 1901 at the rate of 2 shillings per hour, according to records. She retired in 1927 and died in 1953.
‘Five years ago the Gardens thought a good way of acknowledging her work would be by establishing an award in her honour,’ Ms Elkan said.
The Margaret Flockton Award is open to artists around the world, producing scientific botanical illustrations of a high standard, with prizes of $5000 and $2000 respectively for first and second best entries.
Ms Elkan is one of just two illustrators employed at the Gardens. The other is Catherine Wardrop.
Ms Elkan said her botanic artistry has always been on the cards.
‘Back in the early 90s, I couldn’t decide between a career in science or as an artist,’ she said.
‘Becoming a botanical illustrator was a combination of art and science.’
After completing a post graduate diploma in natural history illustration, Ms Elkan happened to be in ‘the right place at the right time’.
Long time Royal Botanic Gardens illustrator David McKay retired in 1995, and a rare position became available.
Ms Elkan’s remarkable ability and exactness as an artist won her employment at the Gardens and there she has built on the reputation.
Taking first prize in the Margaret Flockton Award was acknowledgement of her talent from her peers, she said.
‘I think the judges decided to award me first place because the illustration is clear and it has a level of three dimension,’ she said.
‘Because I drew the Blechnum nudum (fern) from a fresh plant, I was able to really understand its structure,’ she said.
The Margaret Flockton Award Exhibition will be at the Red Box Gallery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Monday to Friday between 10am to 4pm until June 20. For further information phone 9231 8111 or 9231 8182.