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Maria Werneck de Castro made the history of the Brazilian botanical illustration in the second half of our century. The recognition of her work is due, mainly, to the rigor when reproducing the details of the species and to the technical and artistic quality of the drawings which made possible to use them for determining the species drawn. Only the creative capacity of the artist joined to the scientific knowledge of the botanists with whom or for whom, she worked, could result in such a perfect work, not only of the artistic point of view but else of the scientific point of view.
She put, graciously, her art at the service of the science. In everything she illustrated, she was greatly worried about obtaining the highest degree of precision and fidelity. None work reached such richness of details and that is her great difference. Her personality, her passion for what she did, her capacity of being always well disposed to communicate her knowledge, influenced a new generation of Brazilian illustrations. It has been 30 years of botanical illustration (she painted until she was 85 old), always well disposed to guide everyone who asked for her help. Everyone asked about not only points out the technical perfection in her work, but also emphasizes her way of being, the way she conducted her own life, putting heart and soul in all thing she did, her personality, her capacity of arising emotions and the force which seems to bud from her interior, pours out in the contact with people and crystallizes in her watercolors making the drawn species seem to be alive elements projecting out of the paper.
She participated in exhibitions in United States (Washington e Pennsylvania), no Japan, South Africa and Denmark and, of course, in Brazil. She has works in some important institution like The Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt Library (Pennsylvania), Botanical Museum of Copenhagen and National Library, in Rio de Janeiro. In despite of the big number of exhibitions and the recognition that her works have obtained from the botanists and illustrators, all over the world and in Brazil, she stays almost unknown to the public, included the orchidophiles. This fact is due to two big reasons: First of all, Maria Werneck de Castro is extremely modest . Then she considers that her works, as well as the work of every botanical illustrator, need to be recognized by the contents of scientific information it can communicate, tbhe main purpose is the scientific documentation. So it should be put at the disposal of the greater number of researchers and not be hanged in a wall of a home. That is why she gave her work to the collection of National Library. Nowadays, 93 years old, with unique lucidity and power of reasoning besides her sharp criticism capacity, she tells a little about her life in Central Plateau and in Rio de Janeiro as well as about the trips she did around the world.
Miss Maria Werneck, how did you get interest
in botanical illustration?
I worked as civil servant at Caixa Econômica Federal (governmental bank) in Rio de Janeiro and, by the time the new capital, Brasilia, was being built, a branch has been opened there and the manager invited me to go there. No one wanted to go and as he knew that I loved doing everything so different, he invited me and I accepted.
I was amazed. At the beginning, I should do a bureaucratic life which was very hard, the lack of comfort was completely. I do not know how but, one day, I met Ezequias Heringer who was a botanist and worked in Ministry of Agriculture, if I am not wrong, he was studying Caparaó mountain. I handled a paper where there was an orchid drew. He saw it and showed his interest. He was greatly interested in orchids and, specially, fond of Cyrtopodium.
We had a good fellowship.
When did you go to Brasilia? What did you find there?
I moved to Brasilia in January of 1960. There was nothing but holes, wires, generators to provide light and so on. The life was tough. One day I got home and there was no food because the house-maid did not find anything to do. People had bought everything before her so she gave a canned sausage with rice. I used not to eat things like that and I told her that I should do something about that life I was leading.
So I bough a jeep. Everybody was horrified:
"- Is it possible? A civil servant of Caixa Econômica driving a jeep..."
I would like a jeep not only to go from the camping where I lived to work but I also wanted to know the cerrado (A kind of savanna in Brazilian Central plateau). I have never heard about cerrado or if I did, I did not pay attention, I did not know what was it. It was during the highest pint of blooming season there. I became almost crazy about all those flowers.
I started to drive the jeep alone, something completely crazy, I don't know if I would do the same nowadays. I just know how to drive, if something had happened... Then some other people got interested in going with me. Even so, sometimes, I went alone but almost all time, there was someone with me. During a period, no doubt about, Paschoal Carlos Magno, Secretary of Culture, used to go with me, very often. If something happened, I didn't know what to do because I just know how to drive, I did not anything more and Paschoal neither, he even did not know how to drive. We traveled a lot around Brasilia, we have seen wonderful things in the state of Goiás, those old cities. So I wanted to register all those things. I went to the wood and sat on the ground for drawing.
By this time, the roads were not still asphalted and we could see a herd of beautiful deers running away. Even going from pilot plan to Granja do Torto (Vice President home), we could see a herd of deers but we also saw poisonous snakes.
So I got acquainted with the cerrado and as a result, I started to admire it. Then I got to know the farmers around there. I went to their farmers and they showed me thing that I have never imagined to see, tamanduá walking through the wood (I saw one that I was fascinated), herd of ema (a kind of Brazilian ostrich), deers. Once, I saw a very beautiful deer in the middle of a fire. I do not know if the fire got it or if it succeeded in running away. It was a crazy thing, driving a jeep through the fire. I was on the road but the fire crossed from one side to another all the time. I stayed in a farmer for some days until the fire finished. Those burnings occurred every two years. I was sickened but the people of the region found it very natural. One day, I was invited in a farm to lunch and ate something that I found delicious. After, someone told me that it was tamanduá meat (from the hind-hand). It is really a delicious meat but law forbids to kill those animals but the man does.
By this time, every one wanted to have her or his own piece of a land and a I bought a small place. What a poesy! In this place, there was the water spring of Prata River basin. I decided to do some kind of a shelter in order to protect this clear water from sun rays and animals. The farmers told that this kind of thing, only can pass through the mind of the people who come from the state of Rio de Janeiro.
This time was very amusing, we had fun.
After the fire, Cyrtopodium started to bear the new shoots, what a wonderful thing. The Cyrtopodium and Vellozia had the courage to stand the fires and the damages made by the man. Man did not care about what were Cyrtopodiums or Vellozias.
Vellozia was used to make fire and an architect found out that when it was mixed to the earth, they made the walls of the shanties more resistant. I saw, in Chapada dos Veadeiros, a wood of "canela da ema" (Vellozia. The most wonderful thing in the earth and six years later I returned and everything was destroyed. So Mr. Heringer explained to me that, besides the man, canela da ema had another predators like insects and an animal (I can remember which) that is fed by its roots. The man is not its only predator. Nowadays, I know that there is nothing in this wood.
There was not oil in the countryside. Only in the cities. In cerrado, we drove for hours and hours and we did not find. People stored it in containers outside. We bought the oil and filtered it in handkerchief. It had any kind of dust and if some got into the motor, I would be completely lost.
It was a great time. The life with this jeep was very agreeable. With it, I went to Palácio do Planalto (Government House), I went to every official place. People were hungry. "... a civil servant Caixa Econômica driving a jeep... ". I parked it among those rich cars. It was funny.
So, we can say that you had an adventurous life?
I really had a great life.
Brasilia had amazing things. First there were those storms. There was nothing, 180o free of clouds, suddenly thunders and the rain dropped. There also was the period of drought, it was a terror. The first winter I spent there, we had 4oC at night. What a coldness, what a wind, something terrible.
How did you see Brasilia when you arrived? It should be very hard to see the nature being destroyed, shouldn't it?
The vegetation was destroyed (I am at death's door, so I can say it), the architects did not understand anything about botanical. They pull beautiful trees down.
I saw them ordering to fell a wonderful pequi tree (a tree of the genus Caryocar). No matter how long I implored to preserve it, the tree was cut down. I asked the man not to do it:
"- Please, do not do it..."
"- I do, I do, they asked me to do, so I do. The engineers will be furious if I do not do what he asked me to do".
And he did.
Between the blocks, instead of conserving the local species, the architects decided to plant trees from another places like Mexico. They cut down every thing and put plants which did not come from the cerrado, everything you can imagine but nothing from the cerrado.
So do you think, Miss Werneck, that they could preserve the trees of the cerrado between blocks?
Of course, they wanted a flowered city and the cerrado trees also have flowers but they did not believe on it. Even thought they would not preserve every thing, they could maintain them, at least, between the blocks. But they had no consciousness about it. Brazil architects by this time had no idea what was the cerrado, Atlantic forest...
Have you met someone drawing in those ways?
Never, never. Just at the University.
How did you choice what to draw, what were yours criterion to draw?
I saw the beauty of a tree, entirely covered with flowers, so I drew.
And about the orchids, what was your engagement with them?
It was little and very special. I found out that orchids can also grow in ground. I did not know that, to me, orchids only grew on trees.
September came and the Cyrtopodiums were bearing the new shoots and I was delighted because its budding, its growth, the entirely formation until it bears flowers was (and still is) an extraordinary thing. Mr. Heringer encouraged my enthusiasm. As I said, he passionately fond of Cyrtopodium which was the subject of the intense correspondence between him and Mr. Guido Pabst who was specialized in orchids.
One day, Mr. Heringer received a letter from Harry Blossfeld, an orchidophile, asking him if he knew someone to send a drawing to the exhibition that will take place in Pennsylvania (Hunt Botanical Library, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA) and he talked to me.
|I had a drawing in a paper of the poorest quality of the world, The ink I had, by chance, brought from Rio and was English (inks and brushes) but the paper was the worst and most of all, very, very small in such a way that it was impossible to draw the entirely plant so I should break it. I thought it was horrible but there was no other way. I drew Cyrtopodium completely but it was folded in the middle and this modified the plants, didn't it? Well, the plant did not seem exactly how it was because it was presented always divided.|