A Bear in the Botanic Garden

Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Gateff donates major works from regional artists to the Botanic Garden of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Those visiting the Botanic Garden at Mainz University can always make surprising discoveries. Up to now, however, this has been restricted to the world of plants. For the past few, weeks visitors may have encountered a bear – but don't worry, this isn't a real bear. The bronze figure was created for the Botanic Garden by the Mainz artist Anne Kuprat, working to the commission of Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Gateff. The idea of donating a bear to the Botanic Garden came in 2009, as the completion of the Green School in the Botanic Garden was looming. This educational project received significant funding from Professor Gateff and is aimed at stimulating enthusiasm for biological diversity amongst young people. The former genetics professor thought it appropriate that young guests experience something unusual and discover something new during their school breaks. She therefore suggested placing a bronze animal in the garden upon which children could climb. The idea of having a bear was born in discussions with the artist Anne Kuprat, whose inventive animal objects made of paper and natural materials establishes an interesting connection between biology and fine arts.
The bear for the Botanic Garden was also initially made of paper, wire, and glue before being cast in bronze in an intricate process at the art foundry in Mainz-Kastel. The near life-sized paper bear first had to be foamed and stabilized in order to make a negative mold from silicon. The next step was to make a positive mold from wax, which in turn was the basis for the final bronze mold. The result was an imposing, expressive sculpture full of vitality. The bear looks as if it were to make a short detour to the Botanic Garden as it wanders through the forests of North America. It stands there looking somewhat melancholy.

In addition, a sculpture by the renowned Mainz sculptor, Reinhold Petermann, has been another ornament in the Botanic Garden since the beginning of October 2010. The petite female figure in bronze is entitled "Elizabeth" and was actually finished by Reinhold Petermann way back in the 1950s. Until recently, she was part of the Petermann retrospective exhibition "60 years of sculpture" at the State Parliament in Mainz. Now Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Gateff has acquired her for the Botanic Garden, where she has a picturesque position on the garden's main path next to a water lily pond, framed by the branches of a silver birch tree. "Elisabeth" is the third Rheinhold Petermann sculpture on the university in addition to "Schwingungen" (Oscillations) and the "Mann mit Pferd" (Man with Horse) which stands in front of the Philosophicum. Elisabeth Gateff had already bought two paintings by Julia Belot at the beginning of the year for the Green School of the Botanic Garden. The artist, now living in Wiesbaden, completed a biology degree as well as her arts education in St. Petersburg and paints mostly plant motifs as well as portraits. The city of Mainz awarded her the Gutenberg Scholarship of the City of Mainz in 2004. The two paintings by Julia Belot show foxglove plants with delicate pink flowers in a lush green, light-filled landscape. They contrast well with the geometric shape of the Green School's modern architecture.

"We are very excited about these new works of art," says the director of the Institute of Special Botany and the Botanic Garden, Professor Joachim W. Kadereit. "And we're very grateful to Professor Gateff for this generous donation. The Botanic Garden is first and foremost a scientific institution, but art and gardens have always been closely related. And art enhances a botanic garden that sets out to reflect the diversity of plants. It is also something we notice in the positive reactions we get from visitors."

The Mainz Professor Dr. Elisabeth Gateff had already supported the building of the Green School in the Botanic Garden in 2008 with a 50,000 Euro donation, which represented a significant contribution to the realization of the project. Professor Gateff has been closely connected to Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and in particular to the Botanic Garden for many years. As a professor, she headed the Institute of Genetics from 1983 to 1997, where she studied cancer development in fruit flies. She received several prestigious awards for her research in which she proved that cancer has a genetic basis. Her relationship with botanic gardens goes back to her early childhood. Professor Gateff grew up in Sofia, where her father headed the Royal Botanic Garden. When the Friends of the Botanic Garden of Johannes Gutenberg-University was founded in 1998, Professor Gateff was one of the first members.

The works of art at the Botanic Garden can be seen while walking through the garden during normal opening hours (currently daily from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.). On Sunday, November 21, 2010, there is a special tour at 11 a.m. of the works of art in the Botanic Garden. This tour includes the works of Oktave Simon and Adam Löffler, which have been in the Botanic Garden for some time. Donor Elisabeth Gateff and the artists Anne Kuprat and Reinhold Petermann will participate in the tour.