Protected Trees

The Three Graces~Protected Orange Trees

Display in the exhibition:

Rebecca Dvorin Strong, Paintings

February 2 - February 28, 2024

Elisabeth C. Miller Library

University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture

Seattle, Washington

I came upon a group of potted orange trees in a courtyard in Florence, Italy. It was winter, and they were wrapped in white cloth to protect them from cold. Leaves and oranges were visible through the translucent cloth. The wrapped orange trees instantly brought to mind a tree that I had painted from my imagination, Self-Portrait as a Waiting Tree. In that painting, a wrapped potted tree waits patiently until it is time to be planted and to grow freely.

Self-Portrait as a Waiting Tree




The day I saw the potted orange trees, I had earlier visited the Uffizi Gallery, where I spent a long time gazing at Botticelli’s La Primavera. In the painting, six women and two men, as well as a cupid, are gathered in an orange grove. Three of the women, the Three Graces, dance together, wearing flowing white diaphanous garments. 

Sandro Botticelli

La Primavera

c. 1481-1482

Tempera and oil on wood

The Uffizi Gallery

In my visual memory I linked the real wrapped orange trees I saw in a Florentine courtyard to Botticelli’s evocative painting of Three Graces dancing in an orange grove.

Another connection: I made these paintings during the COVID pandemic and, as I worked on them, trees protected with cloth coverings became for me a metaphor for our collective experience of waiting (sheltering in place), covering (masking), and needing to feel safe in the world.

In figuring out how to paint oranges and leaves covered with translucent white cloth, I first tried gouache on black paper (the same medium I had used for Waiting Tree), but those materials did not suit these images. I needed to choose a type of paper that would suggest the atmosphere and the architectural surfaces of Italy. I finally settled upon a pale, buff-colored handmade paper with feathered deckle edges made from cotton rag and flax.

I experimented with various inks and paints on the handmade paper. The problem I needed to solve was how, with water-based media, to overlay diluted white paint on top of the already painted oranges and leaves without blurring or dissolving them. 

To check for blurring and dissolving, I stroked fluid translucent whites on top of oranges and leaves, using different methods and combinations of materials. For the oranges, leaves, branches, trunks, and pots, I settled upon colored inks, watercolors, and gouache. For the translucent cloth, I used white gouache and ink. 

Protected Orange Tree

Work in progress

ca. 2019-2021

Ink, watercolor, and gouache on handmade paper

14 1/2 x 10 inches

The Three Graces~Protected Orange Trees


Ink, watercolor, gouache on handmade paper

$1,500.00 each painting