One morning in 1998, Wendy Hollender, a successful textile designer in Manhattan, woke up and noticed that the lump in her breast—the one her gynecologist had told her not to worry about—was visibly larger. A biopsy confirmed it was cancer. At the time, Hollender was taking a botanical drawing course, something she had wanted to do for years, and she found herself scheduling her doctors' appointments around the class. "I needed to focus on something else," she says.
Over the next year, as Hollender went through five surgeries and chemotherapy, she filled sketchbook after sketchbook. There was always a fresh flower cutting at her bedside. "When I was drawing, I could concentrate on the colors of petals, or the delicate shape of a leaf," she explains. "I wasn't thinking, 'Okay, right now they're pumping my body full of poison.'"
With a clean bill of health, Hollender left her textile design firm to become a full-time botanical artist. She produces luscious pencil and watercolor renderings, some of which are currently on display at the New York Botanical Garden. Hollender says she finds particular beauty in nature's patterns, like the repeating scales of an acorn: "Nature isn't chaotic; it's predictable, which somehow feels reassuring."
Last year Hollender moved to a four-acre farm in upstate New York, where she's surrounded by her subjects. Her two grown kids helped her convert the property's stables into a sun-filled studio, where she teaches workshops and hosts potlucks for her neighbors. But most often, you can find the artist on a stool in her garden, at work on a children's book about a mouse that made its home in one of her rutabagas.
A clematis flower, from the buttercup family.