Rhododendron | A Pattern Inquiry


During our studio trip to Pittsburgh, we took one morning to travel about an hour south of town to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. It was a crisp 40 degrees and sunny with the forest trees just beginning to turn. On the quarter mile walk from the visitor’s center to the residence, I was amazed by the volume and quantity of Rhododendrons surrounding the path. I had read about prevalence but I wasn’t expecting such an overpowering presence.

Rhododendron maximum is an evergreen Shrub growing to 3.5 m.
It is hardy to zone 3. It is in leaf all year, in flower from June to July, and the seeds ripen in October. The species is hermaphrodite and is pollinated by Bees.
Rhododendron maximum can be found in mostly riparian areas with light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers moist soil.
— Plants for a Future.org


According to our tour-guide, Wright designed the interior color palliate at Fallingwater to blend with the changing leaves of the Native Rhododendron surrounding the residence. I have heard about other architects and interior designers doing similar things (Alexander Girard with the Miller House in Columbus comes to mind) but what I found interesting was Wright’s decision to match the changing colors of leaves throughout all seasons.


After the tour of the house, I began inspecting the Rhododendron leaves more carefully; my interest in their texture and color in the natural light led me to pick a few up from the ground for closer examination. I started with three and quickly expanded to a cluster of eight or nine. There is something satisfying abut collecting leaves in general but I especially liked the shape of these… As I added to my assemblage, I began to realize the continuum of colors within the contemporaneity leaves. I wondered how seamless of a spectrum I might create? At this point, leaf collecting had consumed the majority of my attention. My new agenda consisted of searching for particular hues to place between existing colors. Below is the final product of my activity, including about 50 leaves.


I crammed all the leaves into my sketchbook and managed to bring most of them home, via my carry-on, without too much damage. I really enjoy the diversity of color and pattern on these leaves. I spent some time scattering them around on my desk in different patterns, leading me to happen upon this observation: not only does a great range of color exist throughout the leaves as a group, there also exists a wide diversity of the same colors within individual leaves.


This observation led to to the idea for this project. The inquiry: Could I extract a range of hues from individual leaves across a spectrum of color, distill them into a color palette, and then reconstruct a singular leaf from these elements?

Below is a catalog of my explorations, I think the images should speak for themselves.

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