Drawings are both science and art 

August 17, 2023

By Laurie O’Neill


When Alice Rosa was a child in Italy, her mother, years before she moved to Concord, a graduate of a Milan art academy, let the little girl sit next to her and create her own pictures. “Sometimes she would allow me to do a little bit on her painting, the simple parts,” Rosa said recently during a long-distance interview while she was in Florence, “but I’m sure she later fixed what I did!”

That encouragement gave Rosa the confidence to pursue her passion: Botanical art. In her tiny town of Pordenone, in the northeast region of Italy, there was no place for Rosa to take art classes, she said: “I only had those books and my mom to give me feedback.”

After graduating from the University of Verona with a degree in foreign languages and literature, she went on to study art conservation, earning a diploma from the Istituto Veneto per i Beni Culturali in Venice and working as a conservator.

Rosa met Gary Pisano, a Harvard Business School professor, at a wedding in Italy. The two got to know each other after he went home, mostly through long emails. They married in 2009 and with the first of their two children traveled back and forth to Italy before Rosa moved permanently to the U.S. in 2016. They visit her family in Italy during the summer and Rosa keeps a home and studio there.

After living in Cambridge, they settled in Concord, where Rosa took her first botanical art class at the Concord Arts Association, taught by Helen Byers, an award-winning artist who would become Rosa’s mentor. 

“She was the first person who told me that I could really become a botanical artist,” said Rosa. Byers urged her to apply for a distance learning program offered by the Society of Botanical Artists in London. 

Worried that she wasn’t “good enough,” Rosa waited a year — and graduated with distinction in 2022.

One of her three diploma pieces required for graduation was selected for the SBA show in London in 2022. The piece was then accepted into the Guild of Boston Artists, selling in three days.

The problem, though, said Rosa, is that “once you do something really well, how do you replicate it?” But she has produced and shown work ever since, including three pieces included in Plantae, the largest show of the SBA, held in London this past May.

Rosa can work from photographs but prefers to have a specimen in front of her, as “that’s how I can really see what’s going on in terms of being scientifically accurate.” Each drawing involves some 100 hours of work, much of it spent in preparation. Her pieces are meticulously rendered in colored pencil.

“The more I learn, the more I love plants that are not just beautiful, but that play an important role in the environment,” Rosa said, adding that the effects of climate change pain her. She wants to do what she can to help the environment, and in her garden she has been moving to native plants that are good pollinators. 

Rosa’s ”ultimate dream” is to become a fellow of the Society of Botanical Artists. Currently she has a piece at the New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill in Boylston, and is “super excited” that her work was selected to be displayed at the 26th American Society of Botanical Artists International Exhibition in Ross, California, this fall.

Rosa shares a studio with a photographer at The Umbrella and her work is on view in the hallway on the second floor there. 

“The more I do my art, the more I love it,” she said. “I don’t feel stressed by it or need to escape.”