Photo of The 'rice' mural at the U.S. Botanic Garden, Washington, DC

Weekly Gem #184 Soaking up the sun

Published 2/16/2019

Location: This hidden gem is located at the U.S. Botanic Garden, in Washington, DC (see the Clue Me! Map).  

“Rice” is one of six murals painted on the conservatory walls at the Botanic Garden, each depicting a plant that had a tremendous impact on history and culture … rice is joined by cotton, citrus, corn, tea, and of course, chocolate(!).

These murals are exposed to wide ranges of humidity, and to direct sunlight, but need to last in near pristine condition forever. Decades, at least. To accomplish this, an ancient and very uncommon painting technique was used, called secco (dry) fresco. This technique was first developed several thousand years ago, with examples found inside tombs from ancient Egypt.  

Secco painting is extremely resistant to fading or discoloration in sunlight. The artist uses raw pigments, creating extraordinarily vivid colors. While a true fresco is created by painting directly into wet plaster, secco fresco applies pigments to dry plaster, after mixing with water, and then egg yolk. It's a simple recipe. Go ahead and try this at home!

In secco painting, the pigment mixture dries almost immediately upon applying to the plaster, but then cures and continues to change color over the next 24 hours. If you don’t like it today, that’s OK … it’ll probably look better tomorrow. The artist, Yolly Torres, is one of the most skilled in the world when it comes to secco painting, able to mix and apply pigments today so that they are indeed bright and beautiful tomorrow.


Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.


Chop sticks


The 'rice' mural at the U.S. Botanic Garden

Why It's Interesting

Who knew, a painting of food could look so good?

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