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‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’: New wildflower exhibit raises awareness of climate change

By Shamaya Sutton / ssutton@appealdemocrat.com  October 10, 2022


Patrons study the colorful photographs of California’s wildflowers during Sutter County Museum’s opening reception of “Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change”

Patrons study the colorful photographs of California’s wildflowers during Sutter County Museum’s opening reception of “Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change” on Friday in Yuba City. This touring exhibit will be on display until Nov. 20 and offers visitors a chance to explore California’s botanical diversity and the impacts of climate change.


Wildflower lovers are sure to enjoy the Sutter County Museum’s newest exhibit “Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change,” which will be on display now until Nov. 20.

The collection originated at the San Francisco Public Library and is traveled by Exhibit Envoy.

Stunning photographs showcase the vast biodiversity of native flowers throughout the state from the high alpine rock gardens of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the deserts of Death Valley National Park and the blooms off California’s Pacific coast. “Beauty and the Beast” has been named for the flowers’ exquisite charm paired with the ongoing threats they face from global warming and the human impact on climate change.

On Friday, the museum hosted an opening reception with the exhibit’s photographers, Rob Badger and Nita Winter. These artists traveled from their home in Marin County to meet with patrons, sign books, sell prints, and answer as many questions as possible.

Badger and Winter started photographing wildflowers back in 1992 after Badger caught wind of a “super bloom” in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve of Southern California.

“I’d never seen anything like it before,” said Badger excitedly. “So, I immediately called Nita and said, ‘you have to see this,’ and drove back up to San Francisco to get her so we could capture it together.”

Both Badger and Winter have had extensive careers in photography with a focus on conservation and photographic storytelling. Their combined efforts have formed the WinterBadger Collection and they have since received commissions from Kaiser Permanente, San Francisco and Alameda County Art Commissions, Uth Arts Council, and the Irvine Foundation.

Once their obsession with wildflower photography took root, the two quickly grew a giant collection and knew they wanted to do something special with it.

“Given our background in conservation and raising awareness, the natural next step was to combine that knowledge with the photos to create something meaningful and beautiful,” explained Winter. “It was an easy transition and one we hoped would help promote change.”

The photos featured in the exhibit are meant to attract people to the beauty of the flowers while simultaneously learning about their life cycle and how it relates to climate change. Wildflowers typically grow and reproduce during the spring snowmelt and depend on a delicate balance of rainfall, pollination, and seed spread to maintain their populations.

“If the snow melts too soon, and the flowers bloom before the hummingbirds arrive, the flowers don’t get pollinated and the birds don’t have the fuel they need to finish migration,” said Badger.

This example falls into the concept of phenology, the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena. Many things in nature rely on timing and if the cycle is thrown off, it can set off a significant chain reaction with potentially devastating effects.

Daniel Inouye, an emeritus professor of biology from the University of Maryland, has noticed a correlation between the Earth’s warming and floral migration patterns. Certain species have been moving upward to higher elevations with climates that better suit their biological needs. Meanwhile, plants that normally occupy the highest geographic regions have been dying off as they have nowhere else to migrate.

Other factors that contribute to wildflower loss are the proliferation of invasive species, a decline in prescribed burns developed by native peoples, and an increase in “selfie culture.” Super blooms often attract visitors who come for the breathtaking photo opportunities. Many flowers get trampled in the process, which stunts their reproductive process and compacts the surrounding dirt making it harder to envelop new seeds.

Badger and Winter, on the other hand, take great pains to find vantage points and photography methods that do not harm the flowers they are documenting. This means that a single photograph can take upwards of an hour to compose, leaving room for lighting, wind, and other elemental discrepancies.

A “behind the scenes” portion of the exhibit details the extensive techniques that the photographers have employed to capture some of the flowers’ magnificent “glamor shots.”

Molly Bloom, Sutter County Museum’s curator and director, recommended visitors start here and look for the varying methods used throughout the exhibit.

“It’s really interesting to see how much work goes into creating these shots and it helps you appreciate the pieces even more,” said Bloom.

Those that missed their opportunity to meet Badger and Winter in person will have a chance to participate in a virtual talk with them from 3-4 p.m. on Nov. 12. This live-streamed event will take place inside the museum, as well as on its Facebook page.

On Oct. 20, the museum will be hosting its Speaker Series with representatives from Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes. This session, called “Wildflowers of the Buttes,” will run from 5:30-7 p.m. and include a virtual wildflower hike through the Sutter Buttes mountain range. This free program allows visitors a chance to learn about the area and the variety of flowers that can be found there during the spring.

To learn more about Badger and Winter’s work, visit their website at winterbadger.com. The Sutter County Museum is located at 1333 Butte House Rd. in Yuba City. Regular open hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and weekends from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

For more information, call the museum at 530-822-7141, or visit its website at www.suttercountymuseum.org.

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