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UGA brings art and nature together at new museum

Written By Kelly Simmons with photos by Shannah Montgomery

The newest tree at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia needs no water or sunlight. Its 75 blossoms are made of kaolin and bone china. They bear images of Danish botanicals, meticulously reproduced from folio-sized illustrations drawn in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

The Tree of Life is in the main gallery at the Porcelain and Decorative Arts Museum.

The building houses more than 1,000 pieces of porcelain and botanical art, including drawings, paintings, and bound books of the flora of Denmark, donated by Deen Day Sanders, a long-time supporter of the State Botanical Garden.

“We are presenting these items in context with natural history, biology, and nature. So, the idea is to showcase what we can learn about our world by observing these decorative arts,” said Jenny Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

The museum will allow the garden staff to further extend educational, cultural enrichment, research, and experiential learning opportunities, centered on the relationship between art and the natural world. Gardens appear to cascade outside the windows of the museum gallery where the Dorothy Doughty birds are exhibited—one of the largest collections of Doughty’s birds on public display.

Natural light flows through the museum, illuminating the ceramic figurines, plates, tea sets, chocolate pots, and urns. One case holds more than a dozen iris figurines, in yellow, purple, white, orange, and pink, several by artist Diane Lewis. More than 50 of Lewis’ sculptures, including the Deen Day iris, Deen Day lily and Deen Day camellia, are displayed in the museum.

One of Sanders’s favorite pieces, a church from the Porcelain Manufactory in Meissen, Germany is on display at the museum. Believed to be one of only several in the world, it sat for years in Sanders’ Cashiers, N.C., home, a symbol of her Christianity.

Sanders was one of the State Botanical Garden’s earliest supporters, there at its beginning, She served as president of the Garden Club of Georgia, and later president of National Garden Clubs, Inc., and vice president of the World Association of Floral Artists. Her interest in flowers and porcelain began as a child, and she found many pieces during her travels, or at auctions.

“The State Botanical Garden is absolutely the most natural place in the world to display the porcelain and decorative arts that Deen collected over the years because they reflect her interests,” Cruse-Sanders said. “And Deen has had a lifelong passion for botanical gardens, flowers, butterflies...”

One of her major displays is a collection of coffee, tea, and chocolate serving sets. These are all produced from plants around the world that had to be cultivated, propagated, produced, and served. The museum tells many stories of the connection between plants and decorative arts.

“I want nature to be interpreted in word and example in this museum,” Sanders said. “I want visitors to know that there’s a botanical component in everything you do. With this museum, we will be able to demonstrate that correlation.”

Learn more about the museum and visiting hours online at


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