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Modern Parenthood

Maria Sibylla Merian: Inspired her love of nature and art in her daughters

Maria Sibylla Merian, today's Google Doodle, was a naturalist, entomologist, botanical illustrator, and importantly, a mother of two. Ms. Merian took her daughters into nature with her and their collective work was featured in an art show.

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“Enterprising and adventurous, these women raised the artistic standards of natural history illustration and helped transform the field of entomology, the study of insects,” says the Getty website.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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I love the fact that this woman back in the 17th century altered the image of women who fainted at the sight of a spider, redrew the boundaries for her children, and continues to inspire moms to do the same things with kids today.

Years ago, my mother-in-law, an artist and fan of Merian’s work, gave me the book “Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots,” by Sharon Lovejoy to encourage me to share my passion for gardening and botany with my boys. She included sketch pads and charcoal pencils with the gift.

Our perennial family favorite is to grow moonflowers and on summer nights to draw the blooms and, more importantly, the hummingbird-size moths that come out to feed on the nectar in the moonlight.

Hollender, recalls her own uphill battle as a mom trying to replicate Merian’s parenting success by trying to get her son and daughter, now in their late 20s, interested in botanical art. “I took them out on nature hikes, collecting flowers, and we all drew them afterwards," Hollander recalls. Now her daughter, Abby Goldfarb, teaches gardening and farming in an elementary school in New Mexico in a program funded by Americorps. Her son Jesse Goldfarb works for One Acre Fund in Rwanda.

Her parenting achievements, Hollender says, had roots in her role model, Maria Sibylla Merian. “In the end everything we did together actually did get them into careers in science, art, and botany in one form or another,” Hollender adds.

Despite the advent of high resolution photography, the skill of the botanical artist is in high demand, according to Hollender who just surpassed her Kickstarter goal of $25,000 to put out a volume on foraging and feasting: a field guide to natural food, with a final sum raised of $115,026.

Hollender says the details Merian pioneered in her work, like detailing how a leaf attached to its stem, became standards relied upon by those trying to correctly identify plants.

“What that told us was that when people need to identify a plant, they would much rather turn to a detailed and architecturally correct drawing than a photograph,” Hollender explained.

What the story of Merian and her daughters tells me is that with April showers come May flowers and all the bloom-seeking bugs that can bring modern parents back in time to an old school way of connecting our kids to a STEAMy future. 

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