Artists in the Garden: Ande Holbrook

 In Art

I met with my coworker Ande back on a blustery December day near the Marigold and Honey Cafe. Our shoes crunched the gravel underneath our feet and about halfway through my papers flew about (Don’t worry we gathered them all back up). She shared with me her dreams, inspirations, and a slice of her life as a revered Tour Guide and Tram Driver here at NBG. Be sure to check out her artwork now on display in Education Hallway in Baker Hall Visitor Center! 


CB: Do you have a favorite piece of art here in the garden?

AH: Oh goodness. If I had to think of a piece of art here in the garden that just encapsulates me every time I see it it would be the Madonna and Child statue near Renn Court. I’m not overly religious and I am not a mother, but that piece just really strikes me every time and I think it’s coupled with the fact that the Purity Garden is so close to it, it surrounds it. So any given time of year the selection of flowers in that area are white, so in the winter we see like Hyacinth or the Camellias, I just think it’s a very beautiful display as a whole. I’m also really drawn to – there are four statues in Renaissance Court that are meant to represent the different seasons. It’s the women, one of them I don’t think has a head anymore?  And they’re not like idealized pictures of beauty, at least not to me. They just have such captivating eyes.


CB: They do. How did you get started as an artist?

AH: I think the way anybody does.  You’re a kid and you do art. I think the biggest turning point for me in art was when I was very small and I would make things constantly and my Dad was like “you know you can make stories with art right?” That really pushed me to focus on comics and animation and visual storytelling. It’s very powerful and I don’t think it needs words or dialogue to be impactful, but as I got older I got more serious. Initially, I was accepted to Florida Atlantic for their Graphic Design program and I could not afford to go. Yeah, it was very expensive but now that I’m married and we’re financially stable and you know, just generally an adult, I could afford to go back to college and I was nervous. Because I was worried that art school would turn out to be a thing I hated. So I went to community college first and I was like WOW I love art so much! When I was like in high school there was stuff that I was like “Man if I don’t make this, I’ll die.” And I was just so excited to be working on projects and then it kind of faded with time you know I had different problems, but now that I’m approaching my graduation for my Associate’s there are so many things that it’s like “If I don’t make them I’ll die!”

CB: What inspires you the most?

AH: Oh man, this is gonna sound really goofy, but friendship and companionship, overall human interaction. I think there’s something really powerful and beautiful about people coming together. I also love Outerspace so that’s kind of a secondary, but I love people. I think as I’ve become more of an adult I’m pretty shy. I’m meeting new people, but I love people.


Hope Chest, Mixed Media, Ande Holbrook




CB: What challenges you the most as a working artist today?

AH: As a working artist, probably also people. It’s hard to. I don’t think there’s any one rule book in creating artistic connections so it can be hard to meet other artists and make friends with other artists and it can also be very hard to find clients. I’ll find a lot of people want me to make things that I don’t necessarily have a specialty in and I’ll have to decline those. All the time. Hey, can you make this logo for me? And I have to politely explain I’m not a graphic designer, I’m more of an illustrator and it’s also hard to explain to people that don’t necessarily understand.

CB: How has the garden influenced your work?

AH: So the garden specifically – I wanted to learn more about botanical life and using it in my work. Especially like flower languages. I haven’t gotten to use flower language a whole lot, but it’s something I enjoy and enjoy learning about.

CB: What’s flower language? The meaning of flowers?

AH: Yeah, Flower language is like the meaning of flowers. I think it comes from the Victorian era, possibly even older, so if you send flowers in certain colors they mean like “Oh I love you” or “Oh I wanna kill you,” but with the garden as well, it made me kind of reflect on the type of media I like. I love slice of life pieces, so there is a comic I want to make called Miss Guided, but like Miss like a lady.

CB: Oh cute!

AH: And just talk about the very slice of life experiences about tour guides and just general customer service. It might be a little ways out though, with all the other things I have on my plate.

CB: If you could tell young artists anything what would it be?

AH: Study. I let the internet tell me for years, because I grew up with the internet, that you don’t need a reference for your work you don’t need to have a visual library you should just know what these things look like and it hurt my art for a long time and now that I’m in school for art everything is no, find a better reference photo, no find a model, no do this and it’s really increased my technical ability and just my focus on certain details. But I would also tell people you don’t have to come from a rich background to make art. I am by no means from a wealthy background, I just found ways to make the work I wanted to make with what I had available.

CB: What is your favorite plant?

AH: My favorite plant… Oh, that’s a hard one. Um, it kind of depends on the seasons. I really love hydrangeas and sunflowers though. It doesn’t really matter what kind. I just love them all. It definitely depends on the season too, because there’s something magical every time of year.

CB: Favorite memory in the garden?

AH: The garden has been a part of my life in a couple of different ways at this point. I started coming to the garden as a guest and then I got my job here, but during my first year of employment, I actually had my formal wedding at the garden. So it’s hard to pick one memory because you know I’ve made friends here, I’ve got to spend a very special moment with the people who become my friends and my coworkers and my work family, while also bringing my family here and previous friends here. And I’ve watched people come and go from the garden. What I’ve learned is it feels like I don’t see the same people every year, I just meet new faces and I have the pleasure of either helping them a little or a lot and sometimes even being their friend when they leave the garden.

CB: Favorite vegetable?

AH: Ooo. I really like broccoli. Yeah, I love broccoli I think it’s so good. I don’t like it with cheese. I just like broccoli.

CB: Fair enough. Are there any artists that inspire you?

AH:  Yes. Sorry, my brains on fire. Botticelli. And There’s a sculpture. . . the ecstasy of mother Theresa or Saint Theresa. I think it’s gorgeous. But when it comes to more contemporary artists, Drew Struzan.

CB: Who?

AH: Drew Struzan. If you grew up watching movies in the ’80s and 90s and early 2000s He made every single movie poster you probably love and I just love his work and he’s pretty private but his work is gorgeous.  I also love Fuco Ueda. The very first copy of High Fructose I ever bought, her work was on the cover.

CB: Oh yes! I love her work too. Very cool. Would you like to tell us more about your submission for MOCA’s food and memory exhibit?

AH: So I’m a little nervous I’m thinking of making a new piece of work even though previously I was going to photograph a sculpture and have a print made. The original sculpture I was going to and may still enter is called “Having my cake and being it too” it’s meant to be a self-portrait sculpture that pulls off trompe-l’oeil.  It uses cardboard and other objects to look like cake. Also considering doing a still-life painting of carnival snacks. A lot of my student work has focused on carousels horses and carnivals and real whimsical life experiences. And that’s something I want to continue throughout my professional career.


CB: Have you seen the Cardboard Bernini?

AH: No.

CB: You need to watch it! He makes crazy stuff out of a lot of cardboard.  What brought you to the garden?

AH: I am very embarrassed to tell people this, but Pokemon Go. And then during one of my days here I was on the tram and the tram driver who was going to be doing an exhibit at Baker Hall (Daniel Kathalynas). And we talked about his work and he suggested that I apply to the garden and I was new to the garden and took it as a sign that I should and I took it as a sign and a little over 3 years later I’m still here.


CB: Aw. Can you tell me a little bit about your award-winning tourism experience?

AH: Oh gosh. My award-winning tours.

CB: Didn’t you win an award?

AH: No. I was in the running for an award I did not win, but I am very humbled to have made it to the finalists’ selection. SO I almost won. I’m just very grateful that people considered me because that was one I did have to be elected for.

CB: What was it called?

AH: The VRLTA Charlie Buser Award for being the Travel Attraction Employee of the Year! I’m really humbled that somebody thought my interactions with guests and presentations were outstanding and I’ve told people here at the garden that are both in and out of my department I just feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to. I’m just doing the right thing. I’m just doing my job and I really love my job. I know I’m a little sappy.

CB: Path recommendations?

AH: At the garden? I tell everybody all the time to visit the Mirror Lake section, but if you had to walk in my footsteps I would start in Perennial and maybe Rennisance Court and make my way over to the bridge, after visiting the Secret Garden to visit things like the Kitchen Garden and the Enchanted Forest. I come walking with a friend here usually once a week so that’s where we get the most peace and quiet for our conversations.


What is your greatest dream as an artist? What is it all for?


I’d like to connect with people in high school. Portray women I hope to know and hope to be. Women that are friends. Women that are enemies. Women that are depressed. Women that are at their prime. There’s no one perfect way to be a woman. I also care about people that aren’t women. I have a lot of great friends from all walks of life, genders, and races. . . its for Hope. For the World to be a better place and for all of us to connect.


I’d also like to be a Cryptid – somewhat of a local legend. I stay home a lot. Not on social media as much as I should be. I’d like to fade into obscurity and become the local cryptid with time…. People will say “Have you met her? She’s like the lock ness monster.”


“Have you met Ande?”



Ande will be a graduate of TCC’s Art program this Spring and plans to attend VCU. For more on Ande consider checking out her website as well as her latest exhibit here at NBG! Thanks for all you do Ande!


Recommended Posts
The image is of a watercolor painting of an orange, yellow, and pink hibiscus