Catching Flowers

Nic Bladen documents floral biodiversity with cast bronze tributes

“I am a just caster and a surfer,” says Nic Bladen on the drive to his studio in Clovelly, a beautiful beach town very near Cape Point Natural Reserve with gorgeous views both of the sea and of nearby Table Mountain. But he is more than that. He is also an artist, a botanist, an outdoorsman, and a far-sighted environmentalist.

Casting and surfing require an intuitive understanding of flow – of metal and water, respectively. On the water, he allows the shape and flow of the water to guide him. In the studio, he persuades metal to flow into the the shapes and gestures of living plants.  He casts with the lost wax casting method to create one of a kind plant-based sculptures that range from individual leaves to entire, massive plants that run from bottommost root to top most shoot.

Nic’s work is not the only way he blends the roles of outdoorsman, botanist and artist: there’s his portable rig, too.  He has designed a self-contained mobile studio that fits into his truck, complete with a casting set-up, a generator, mold making supplies, all kinds of tools, and a luxurious supply of metals.  His studio has to be mobile: his work is done outdoors, as close as possible to the site where his plant specimens grow. He camps at various spots around Table Mountain, and explores for days until he sees the plant that he will cast.  “You know it when you see it,” says Nic.

He cast his first flower in 2006 – a disperis capensis, a Cape Town species of orchid commonly called Granny’s Bonnet. The diverse world of South Africa’s biosphere opened up infinite artistic possibilities for Nic. But when he learned about the alarming rate of biodiversity loss in the Cape’s floristic region and elsewhere, his casting became note just an artistic vocation – it became a mission, too. 

Population growth, urban development and global warming put more than 300 Cape region plant species on South Africa’s endangered list. At least 13 species are already extinct.  As many as 30 will probably be lost in the near future without a dramatic change in human behavior. 

Nic focuses on Table Mountain’s amazing flora. It’s right in his backyard, of course, and he has relationships with the land owners and wardens who grant permission for the careful harvest of selected plants. But it’s not proximity or familiarity that drive him. Table Mountain alone is home to 1500 plant species. At Nic’s current production capacity of 30 plant castings a year, documenting Table Mountain will take him 50 years.  It is a life’s work – and an admirable one. 

In parallel to his sculptural work, Nic has a jewelry line that extends his botanical work into smaller pieces made with bronze and silver.  “I am not intrigued by stones…there is so much to explore with metals and casting,” he comments.  His line includes hanging orchid earrings, drift wood bangles, leaf rings, and seedpod pendants -- all of which capture nature’s fragility.

Nic admits that he has a hard time parting with his creations when they sell because he would like to keep them in reserve for a big initiative he has in mind: The Botanical Heritage Project, a collection of meticulously accurate plant castings held in a garden museum for permanent study. At some point in the future, his work, like fossils, may by the last way to study the lost wonders of nature. 

To learn more about Nic Bladen, please visit, www.nicbladen.com.

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