Past Exhibitions

“Memento Mori Mandalas” by Portia Munson

  • Olana's East Lawn
  • May 2 - October 31, 2021

Portia Munson is a nationally recognized artist based in Catskill, NY whose work is attuned to the interconnection of art and science and the toll of environmental loss, themes that are central to the exhibition Cross Pollination: Heade, Cole, Church, and Our Contemporary Moment. For this reason, The Olana Partnership has installed four arresting, monumental silk banners from her series Memento Mori Mandalas that visitors to Olana can discover throughout the artist-designed landscape from May 2 through October 31, 2021.

The Memento Mori Mandalas memorialize and honor creatures that have paid the price of humanity’s harsh impact on the land. Evoking the transitory Buddhist spiritual practice of mandala making, Portia Munson reflects on the passing beauty of earthly things and the costs of climate change with arrangements that center on fallen birds and insects she finds on her walks around our region. Using a high resolution flatbed scanner, she holds up these specimens of loss for our respect and admiration, often surrounding them with flowers and plants she grows. The subjects on view include two newly commissioned banners, Cardinal and Cecropia Moth, and two banners, Sharp Shinned Hawk and Barred Owl, which were previously on view at Chesterwood, the home and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French in Stockbridge, MA. Cardinal will be sited along the sweeping final approach road to the front door of Olana’s Main House, Cecropia Moth will be installed near the site of Frederic Church’s first painting studio at Olana, and Sharp Shinned Hawk and Barred Owl will both be found in the woodland environment along Olana’s Ridge Road. Two of Munson’s prints on paper from this series will also be on view in the interior portion of Cross Pollination, intervening in the Court Hall at the heart of Olana’s iconic Main House.

Through this installation, Olana aims to further the concepts of the exhibition, integrating them with the environment Frederic Church designed in a practice of restorative, ecologically minded “landscape architecturing.” The landscape installation, which is free and open to all, will encourage visitors to walk along the carriage roads to discover and experience Munson’s work within this unique context of blended art and nature.



“I began creating flower images in 2002 after the death of a favorite person left me pondering the fleeting lives of flowers and people. While walking in my garden images of flower arrays came to me. I imagined flower mandalas that were reminiscent of suzanies from Uzbekistan and the vivid garlands of fresh blossoms I had seen being used as religious offerings in Southeast Asia. Using the mandala, the circular form that in Eastern religions represents the universe, I meticulously arrange flowers from the garden into combinations of color and form that exaggerate the vibrancy of both. Sometimes I slice into buds and append blossoms onto one another. As with all my work, a closer look at the subject reveals hidden secrets – in this case, the flowers’ hairy, sticky, or poisonous parts; pollen; seeds; and the occasional insect.

To make these mandala images, I use the scanner like a large-format camera. I lay flowers directly onto it, allowing pollen and other flower stuff to fall onto the glass and become part of the image. When the high-resolution scans are enlarged, amazing details and natural structures emerge. Every flower mandala is unique to a moment in time, represents what is in bloom on the day I made it.” – Portia Munson



Portia Munson is a visual artist who works in a range of media including photography, painting, sculpture and installation and focuses primarily on environmental and cultural themes seen from a feminist perspective. Munson’s work has been the focus of more than 20 solo exhibitions and has been shown in major public and private spaces including MASS MoCA, the New Museum, Albany International Airport, Wave Hill, and Bryant Park subway station in collaboration with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. She is represented by PPOW Gallery in New York.

Munson was born in Beverly, MA in 1961. She has a BFA from Cooper Union (1983), and an MFA from Mason Gross School of Art (1990), Rutgers University. She attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (1987) and has been awarded residencies at institutions including Civitella Ranieri (Umbertide Italy); MacDowell Colony for the Arts (Peterborough, NH); Fine Arts Work Center (Provincetown, MA); and Yaddo (Saratoga Springs, NY). Munson has taught at School of Visual Arts, New York University, Yale School of Art, Vassar College and SUNY Purchase. Portia Munson lives and works in Catskill, NY.


This exhibition has been generously funded by support to The Olana Partnership for the Novak-Ferber Exhibitions Fund. With additional support by the Faculty Development Fund of Pratt Institute.

This exhibition was made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.