“No other flower – for me at least – brings such upsurging of the spirit…” – J. Frank Dobie, Tales of Old-Time Texas
Nothing unites Texans so much as love for bluebonnets. Each spring finds the roads crowded with people making their annual pilgrimages to see the them, in celebration of not only the bluebonnet itself, but the very spirit of Texas. They are so highly revered today that it is difficult to imagine a time in history when such was not the case.
The earliest known mention of the bluebonnet was made in 1828 when a young Jean-Louis Berlandier, accompanying General Manuel de Mier y Terán and the Comisión de Límites on its journey through Texas, noted seeing a lupine among a field of other wildflowers a day’s ride north of San Antonio. Later, others also recorded observations of the flower’s presence out on the prairies, but by and large, mentions of bluebonnets were generally absent from nineteenth century Texas writing. Perhaps such observations were simply not a priority for anyone but naturalists at that time in history. However, as Texas became progressively more civilized it is probably safe to assume that people would have had more time available to devote to more elevated pursuits such as art and the study of nature, among others.
During the twentieth century the bluebonnet emerged as the Texas landscape artist’s most popular subject, even being so influential as to affect the world of politics. As the story goes it was a painting that tipped the scales in the bluebonnet’s favor during the twenty-seventh Texas Legislature’s decision to adopt what is colloquially known today as the sandyland bluebonnet (Lupinus subcarnosus) as the state flower of Texas. Seventy years later, in a delayed acknowledgment of the omission of the other species of the flower that exist within the state’s borders, the legislation was amended to include the much more prevalent Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) and “any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded,” indicating that they were no more aware of the other four species of bluebonnets than their predecessors had been. Today most people have still never seen the Big Bend bluebonnet (Lupinus havardii) in person, and the overwhelming majority of even the most dedicated bluebonnet lovers have never laid eyes on the bajada bluebonnet (Lupinus concinnus), the dune bluebonnet (Lupinus plattensis), or the sundial bluebonnet (Lupinus perennis) due to their scarcity.
Regardless of the collective ignorance of the variety of bluebonnet species that exist, appreciation for what they embody continues to grow. This is no surprise to anyone fortunate enough to have been in their presence, for to be among a field of bluebonnets during peak bloom is an experience which transcends simple visualization. It is a spiritual awakening that resonates with a person long after the actual moment of encounter has passed, and links them with every other Texan, both past and future, that ever felt or will ever feel that same way.
For those of us who care about bluebonnets the most, they are never far from our thoughts. We spend the fall and winter following weather forecasts, tallying rainfall totals, taking note of temperatures, counting rosettes, and praying for the conditions that are most favorable for an outstanding bloom. In a good year, as February winds down, waves of cobalt, azure, and admiral blue begin to descend upon the landscape as if by divine benediction.
They appear first in far West Texas, spreading eastward from the Big Bend and north from the Gulf Coast to the Texas Hill Country as temperatures grow ever warmer, eventually enveloping a significant portion of the state in their splendor for the next two months of the year. We spend March and April traversing the state in search of them, and once found, silently rejoicing in their fragrant beauty. When the last stands finally seed up in mid to late April, the cycle begins anew and we start counting the days until we’ll be able to hit the road in search of them again.
Being so affected by a subject as I am by bluebonnets, I have no choice but to make art about them. Therefore, I present Bluebonnets, a portfolio about a lifelong love of and fascination, bordering on obsession, with the most iconic symbol of Texas and Texanism that exists.