Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

Catalog Data

Helen Hornberger  Search this
Copper, oil paint
Overall: 12 1/4 in. (31.1 cm)
Stem: 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm)
Flower: 5 in. (12.7 cm)
Artificial flowers and trees
United States
Artist, Helen Hornberger, revived the techniques of French tole to create naturalistic representations of the state flowers. The artist used thin copper sheets as her base, and painted them with oil paint in the natural colors of the blossoms and leaves of the Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum). A cluster of open blossoms, painted white on the inside and pink on the outside, attach to a green stem where they are encircled by drooping green leaves.
Label Text:
The Congress of Representative Women at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago proposed that each U.S. state and territory select a flower to represent their state in the “National Garland of Flowers.” This resulted in the National Floral Emblem Society. Each state has adopted to represent the state and its people based on their importance to the state’s history, economy, folklore, or native varieties. Tole artist Helen Hornberger created each artificial flower representing each state to create for a bouquet displaying America’s floral diversity.
WEST VIRGINIA: The Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) was designated the official state flower of West Virginia on January 29, 1903. The push for Rhododendron to represent the state began in 1901, with the outgoing Governor, George Atkinson’s recommendation. In 1903, it earned its official title after 15,000 West Virginia school students chose the Rhododendron in a poll against the Honeysuckle and Wild Rose. There are many names for this flowering shrub including Big Laurel, Great Laurel, Rosebay, Rosebay Rhododendron, Great Rhododendron and White Rhododendron. The use of “big” and “great” as well as its botanical name “maximum” come from its ability to grow in excess of 40 feet, with an average height of 15 feet. It is a member of the heath family and is known for its evergreen, large, dark leaves. In late spring the Rhododendron blooms with purple, pink and white blossoms that are mottled with either red or yellow flecks. These perennial flowers grow in clusters of up to 25 blossoms that give off a strong fragrance, which attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. Rhododendrons are extremely common in the eastern United States and is found in every region of West Virginia except for its westernmost counties. It can thrive in both dense shade and in the sun. It is found flourishing on hillsides, in ravines, and under the thick tree canopies of hemlock and maple in state. While this species of rhododendron is native to the eastern United States, another species, the Coast Rhododendron grows in the West and is the official state flower of Washington.
copper  Search this
tôle  Search this
Artificial flowers  Search this
crafts  Search this
emblems (symbols)  Search this
flowers (plants)  Search this
West Virginia  Search this
Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection. Gift of Helen Hornberger.
Accession number:
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
See more items in:
Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens