Terry Ashley’s “Botanical Chords” Pushes Plant Photography Limits

Terry Ashley’s “Botanical Chords” Pushes Plant Photography Limits

Florida is a state named for its plant life. Everywhere you look you find delicately unfurling ferns and dramatic tropical flowers, but have you ever wondered about the beauty below the surface? Terry Ashley has, and it is this juxtaposition of internal and external beauty that she uses as inspiration for her upcoming Santa Fe photography exhibit, entitled Botanical Chords of Florida Native Plants.

From Sept. 28 to Nov. 3, the President’s Hall Art Gallery at Santa Fe College’s Northwest Campus will display Ashley’s photography, which blurs the lines between science and aesthetics. Ashley has termed her art “chords” because they connect two separate images, one traditional plant photograph and one image taken at a cellular level.

To be able to create the microscopic image, Ashley has to carefully peel a single layer of cells from a plant leaf, stem, or petal and photograph it under high magnification. The artist then places a picture of the plant’s exterior on top of the picture of its cells, creating a textured, multi-layered photograph.

“I had long searched for a way of uniting this micro world with the macro world — it gives rise to the whole plant,” writes Ashley in her mission statement.

Opening reception

The exhibition kicks off with a free opening reception at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29, attended by the artist. The reception will be a casual meet-and-greet open to the public, with refreshments available.

“Terry’s work is so unique that I said to myself, ‘I’m going to spend the budget and have a reception for her,'” said Jayné Grant, gallery director. “We only have receptions for a couple of exhibits each year, but I thought her work was unique, and I wanted people to meet her.”

Artist grew up in Gainesville

Ashley, a Gainesville native, started her career not as an artist but as a scientist, receiving a BA in Botany from Duke University and a PhD in Genetics from Florida State University. The last 19 years of her career were spent working as a research scientist at the Yale University School of Medicine, before she retired and discovered a new passion in art.

“After that many years in the scientific industry, it’s hard to switch gears, but she is doing a marvelous job of it,” said Grant. “She’s taken old techniques and reshaped them into contemporary designs. She has a very good eye for composition.”

Ashley’s local connections proved key to the inception of this exhibit. Her brother, Dr. Robert Ashley, served as general physician to Grant, and during a check-up several years ago, Dr. Ashley introduced Grant to his sister’s distinctive brand of photography.

“When Dr. Ashley told me about her focus, I was immediately drawn to it. I’m a nature person,” said Grant. “If this is what’s below a cell or a layer of a plant, what’s below other things? Nature is a boundless, endless resource. It can be taken to extremes.”

Exhibit sponsor

A total of three Terry Ashley exhibits will run simultaneously across the country, including one in Highlands, N.C. This particular show, sponsored by the Florida Native Plant Society’s Paynes Prairie Chapter of Gainesville, features exclusively species endemic to the state. Santa Fe will display 18 different pieces, most being medium-sized prints that measure from 18” by 24″ to 24″ by 36″.

All the photographs will be on sale. Prices range generally from $600 to $1,200. The most expensive piece happens also to be the largest: an oak “chord” measuring 18″ by 60″, selling for $2,400.

Wall plaques next to each piece will show the individual images used to create the composite photograph. Given the delicacy of the plant life, difficulties in lighting, and the seasonal availability of certain plants, it can take dozens of different shots and over a year to find the right images to pair.

Though it ends Nov. 3, this exhibit may not be the last Santa Fe College hears of Ashley. According to Grant, Ashley has expanded her artistic scope to include ceramic tiles, so she may start auditing the ceramics classes here at Santa Fe.

“That’s what is great about featuring new techniques. It spawns endless possibilities,” said Grant.

For more information, contact Gallery Director Jayné Grant at 395-5464. Gallery website

~ This press release was written by Aliison Griner, Communication Specialist, College Relations


  • Gallery Director Jayné Grant at 352-395-5464 (office) or 352-317-6977 (cell)
  • Julie Garrett, for assistance facilitating your story, 352-395-5430 (office) or 352-870-2924 (cell) or