In what botanists call the Saharo-Sindian floristic regions - a belt of desert running from North Africa to Pakistan and including the Arabian Peninsula - flowers are rare. There are some flowers, however, since, with just a touch of rain, plants in many of the deserts instantly bloom, and in other floristic regions - Jordan, Lebanon and Syria - thousands of species flourish. In the spring, in fact, wild flowers carpet the coastal plains and the foothills of Lebanon and Syria with layer upon layer of vivid color. (See Aramco World, January-February 1968, September-October 1974).
As they did with astronomy and mathematics during the Golden Age, the Muslim world, centuries later, introduced many of those flowers to Europe. In the 16th century, to give one very good example, an Austrian diplomat at the court of the Ottoman Empire noticed the beauty of the tulip and introduced it in Germany and, of course. The Netherlands - a development hinted at in one of the paintings reproduced here.
To Kathleen Crawford, a 74-year-old great-grandmother in Los Osos, California, who has been painting flowers since she was a child, all flowers are beautiful. But those from the East have a particular fascination for her; though her travels in the Arab world took her no farther than Cairo - "which I hate to admit," she says - she has done considerable research in botanical gardens as well as libraries, and has always found the flowers from the East to be particularly attractive.
To Mrs. Crawford - who studied painting at the Chouinard Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles ("They've changed the name to the Art School now") - her paintings of flowers are not just paintings. She calls them "portraits" because, she says, she paints them from living models, some of them grown in her own garden.
But whether portraits or renderings, Mrs. Crawford's work is accurate as well as beautiful - so accurate that the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, and horticultural journals in Massachusetts, California and elsewhere have taken samples, and so beautiful that several art collectors have purchased some to put on display. In addition, her work hangs in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
These few examples of Mrs. Crawford's "portraits" are but a minute part of her work; she says she has turned out about 300 paintings in recent years and has about 100 on hand right now. But they suggest, nonetheless, the detail she insists upon and the beauty of the garlands that have come to the West from the East over the centuries.