Nic Bladen, the South African sculptor, jeweler, and botanist, is on a mission to preserve the Cape Peninsula’s endangered flora. His delicate botanical sculptures, ranging from a billowing kelp chandelier to a bronze-cast Aloe africana (roots and all), are created using an intricate lost-wax casting technique that allows Bladen to capture rare plants in unparalleled detail. Though he’s always loved nature, it was his years doing bridge and crown work as a dental technician — plus an apprenticeship in a bronze foundry — that gave him the technical foundation for his work.
South African artist Nic Bladen tracks down endangered plants and casts them in bronze and other materials. Here he renders the natural grace of Aloe pluridens. Photo by: Amaridian.
Bladen and his wife, artist Jane Epell, live on a farm nestled between mountain and sea near Kalk Bay, about half an hour south of Cape Town. Situated in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom — the smallest but richest of the world’s six such botanically distinct floral regions — Bladen takes inspiration from his lush surroundings but is deeply disturbed by the rapidly increasing numbers of endangered plants. “My wish is to show the fragility of our plant kingdom,” he explains. Working with Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Bladen has access to some of South Africa’s most endangered plants, “many of which are now extinct in the wild or so obscure that no one knows anything about them,” he says.
A trio of sculptural leucospermum. Photo by: Amaridian.
Although Bladen regularly shows his work in Cape Town and recently exhibited a new series of botanical sculptures and jewelry at New York City’s Amaridian Gallery, he is about to embark on his most ambitious project to date. In cooperation with Baskloof Private Nature Preserve, situated on the edges of Table Mountain National Park, Bladen plans to mount a comprehensive exhibition of cape region plants. “Baskloof is the first place where I saw that in one square yard you could find nearly 20 different species of plants,” he says. He’s been granted permission to harvest one plant species per week for a year, and, ultimately, he hopes to document other regions of South Africa’s unique floral heritage. Which, in the long run, Bladen believes, “will serve as a testament to the many plants disappearing from our grasp.”
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