Miranda Mote Opens Her Studio and Practice to Children of Rome

Color photo of pinecones, leaves, and pine needles on a table
An assortment of leaves, pinecones, and pine needles, gathered in Rome, in Miranda E. Mote’s studio
Color photo of an adult and child sitting at a work table
Mote with a student
Color photographs of botanical prints pinned to a wall
Examples of Mote’s botanical prints
Color photo of a white door with a leaf hanging from a name plate
Mote’s studio door at the Academy

Miranda E. Mote, the 2024 Garden Club of America/Prince Charitable Trusts Rome Prize Fellow in landscape architecture, is bringing the outdoors in while welcoming some unlikely visitors to her studio: scores of children ages three to fifteen for specially designed classes that combine art, botany, and plant stories. At these classes, the children directly engage with the plant material that is local to the Janiculum and are helping to shape a new curriculum Mote is crafting for elementary and secondary school children involved in STEAM (arts-focused STEM) that will be published by her Philadelphia-based educational nonprofit, Botanography.

The curriculum is just one part of Mote’s AAR project, Botanography and Botanic Gardens: The Italian Art of Nature Printing and Its Influence on Early American Gardens and Botanical Language. Mote, who is affiliated with the architecture programs at the University of Pennsylvania and Pratt Institute, is also documenting aspects of the culture of nature printing at orti botanici in Italy and reinterpreting traditional printing methods to refine her own botanical print work. It has also been a joyful way of bringing members of the local Roman community, both children and parents, to the Academy.

We stopped by Mote’s studio on a clear day in December to observe one of her classes. The large table in the center of Studio 301 was covered in leaves, pinecones, small olive branches, and more, gathered from the Academy’s Bass Garden, the Doria Pamphilji Park, and other nearby spots. “If I look like a little odd carrying overflowing bags in and out of the Academy, it’s because I’m gathering plant parts,” she joked. In today’s lesson, young students would use some of this material, along with string and glue, to create sculptures of fantastical creatures.

color photo of a light skinned woman in an artist's studio with botanical art on the wall behind her
Miranda E. Mote in her Academy studio


Two pots brewed on hot plates. In the first, pine needles and pomegranate rinds were slowly releasing their color to create a botanical dye to soak paper in. (This soaking process opens the natural fibers of the paper and allows for a clearer print.) The second saucepan contained melted beeswax for children to coat leaves and the like for their sculptures. Mote said the wax would lend the leaves a glossy color and slow down their natural decomposition.

Artwork by young Romans was pinned up on one corner of the studio. In another corner, Mote’s own work was displayed, including dozens of beautiful botanical prints in progress: of oak leaves, olive leaves, and pine-needle clusters from the threatened umbrella pine (Pinus pinea). Gold powdered pigment and gold leaf illuminated many of the prints, which are intended as diptychs, showing the negative and positive images. These prints will be exhibited at the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome (April 4–May 2) and at the Academy’s Open Studios in June.

Nature printing is an art that botanists used to document plants before photography. Prints made directly from plants show a plant’s shape, form, and skeletal structure useful in studying their botany. Botanical art, like nature printing, can connect children with the plant world and teach ecological phenomena. It is especially useful because it engages children through analytical and emotive means.

color photo of botanical art on a studio wall and a window
Botanical prints by children in Mote’s studio classes

In another lesson, “una foglia - una facia,” students ages three to five were read a story about a child who walks in the woods and makes friends with trees after being able to see their faces. Mote directed the youngsters to closely observe leaves, using their imagination to identify the leaves’ faces. Through other exercises, like free-drawing and “leaf rubbings,” the children learn to better recognize the shapes of leaves and appreciate their unique identities.

Mote believes this pedological effort connects youth with the palliative and cultural aspects of trees and gardens in urban communities and helps them envision themselves as future environmental professionals and advocates. Engaging with K–12 students, Mote said, is related to her design and history teaching at the university level. When Mote teaches university students about landscape history, she uses interdisciplinary methods of engaging with subjects of history, ecology, and botany to teach the meaning of parks and gardens with written and art-based assignments, thereby educating to advocate for just, ecologically and culturally robust neighborhoods for all people.

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” played softly from Mote’s laptop. The ten-year-old son of Carrie Beneš (2009 Fellow), Tankrid, added a pine-needle tail to his squirrel sculpture. The soft December sunlight danced across the gold dust on Mote’s prints. Through the open studio windows, we admired the views of umbrella pines, the Apennines, and all of Rome. Such a scene could only take place at the American Academy in Rome.

More information on Mote’s organization Botanography can be found online and on Instagram.

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