On Juries, Judging and Awards
by Edmund Amateis, Brewster, N.Y.
The following suggestions have been requested by our editor and are a restatement of several letters written to our president. I feel that our present methods of judging could be improved. What I say is presented merely as a point of discussion with the hope in mind that eventually better methods might be found.
Our methods of judging seem to me inconsistent and haphazard. Inconsistent because both the A.R.S. and the R. H. S. are now laying great stress on the clonal designation of plants. Yet when we judge them we abandon this classification and judge by groups, groups with no more in common than, for instance, the vague and controversial color pink. How can a truss of three flowered triflorum ancestry compete with a monster like 'Jan Dekens' or one of such architectonic perfection as 'Cynthia'? This is like trying to compare a dachshund with a Doberman pinscher because they both might be of somewhat the same color. Dog fanciers and, in fact, all fanciers in both the animal and horticultural worlds have definite standards for each variety. I propose the same thing for rhododendrons.
I believe each variety should be judged by its own standards. When I have mentioned this to some of my friends their immediate re-action has been that this would make too many classes and too much work for the juries. I don't agree and would like to pursue this point for a moment. What I am suggesting is the elimination of all classes as they now exist. Each variety would be submitted under its own name, which would constitute a class in itself. The exhibitor, in making out his entry card would merely write the name of his truss rather than the number of his class. It would be as simple as that. The actual number of entries would still be the same. The work of the jury would not be complicated but would, in fact, be simplified as the jury would not be put to the task of trying to compare diverse varieties. Each variety would have its own set of standards. These standards would have to be established by a competent and knowledgeable committee composed of men from all interested countries such as Great Britain, Holland, Germany and the United States. The botanical description of a new variety submitted by the originator at the time of registration would serve as a criterion for that particular clone. With the older varieties, where the originator of the clone is still living, I think it would be helpful, and certainly courteous, to ask his advice. In the case of species we already have the very comprehensive and authoritative "Species of Rhododendrons."
These standards would be sent to all chapters for use by the judges either as written descriptions, drawings or colored photographs or, better, all three of them. Even if there is only one entry of a particular clone it could and should be judged by the established standards. If I digress here it is to emphasize what I consider the great importance of standards. For lack of standards, my own world of art is in a deplorably chaotic state. It is not that the modernists might have given us something new, for there have always, in the history of art, been new epochs and strong styles within each epoch. It is that they have destroyed the standards of esthetic structure within which every historic style has hitherto functioned and they have given us nothing to take its place. There are now no standards or rules and, in most cases, each artist sings his song in his own language and for himself alone. Certainly he doesn't sing for the public nor even his fellow artist, with whom he always seems to be at odds. The old Chinese adage said that one picture was worth a thousand words but it does seem to me that it takes the average modernist a thousand words to describe his own picture. Lest I seem vague or esoteric when I speak of esthetic structure let me try to explain that it is not something found only in paintings but in nearly everything we have hitherto considered beautiful, whether it be architecture, furniture, clothing or rhododendrons. I made mention of 'Cynthia' which, with me, is a hopelessly tender, ungainly plant. But its truss, when it is at its best, is one of great "esthetic structure." It is striking in its size, which is in scale to the shrub. It has a good definite shape that is well proportioned, width to height. The rhythmic arrangement of its numerous florets on the rachis is perfect. The florets are well proportioned in relation to the truss, well spaced, not too crowded nor yet too isolated and are of good substance. Proportion, scale, rhythm, mass relationship to space, texture, etc.-these are just some of the elements of esthetic structure. I could ask for a better color in 'Cynthia' but then, I am also one who could ask for the moon.
I say we are haphazard. When we need judges we chase around the country for the most available, competent person we can find. I have served on juries and I know that their selections are based on personal likes and dislikes. This is no criticism of any jury, for without a set of standards there is little else they can do. In a spirit of generosity they give awards to miserable specimens "to encourage people to exhibit." I believe this to be wrong and detrimental to the spirit of excellence and perfection that should merit the existence of an exhibition. In selecting judges the Daffodil Society requires a judge to take a three year course and an examination. The Federated Garden Clubs, to which my wife belongs, requires a five course study extending over a period of years, plus a stiff examination. Yet we take whom we can catch and whose basis of judgment is, "Well, I like this one."
The judging of new varieties is of such importance that I feel it should be given much further consideration. As a result of exhibitions and the difficulty of showing the entire plant, the truss has taken on an importance out of proportion to the rest of the shrub. To give a preliminary award to a new variety on the basis of truss alone is much like giving a beauty prize to Katisha, of "The Mikado," whose left shoulder blade is a miracle of loveliness but the rest of her best concealed with the kindly veil of courtesy. I feel there are already too many Katishas in the rhododendron world and that the A.R.S. should not give its stamp of approval without judging the plant in its entirety. A preliminary award is not a tentative award and should the plant itself prove to be of no value it could still flaunt its P.A. on the end of a barren branch. After all, a rhododendron is a plant that is in bloom but a few weeks of the year and must do duty the rest of the time as a shrub. Maybe we would do well to judge and rate it on that basis.