Flowers and found objects guide one woman’s creative coping with the pandemic

Carol Whitman
Carol Whitman's mandalas are made out of flowers and other found materials. The Inverness Park resident has published of book featuring photographs of 55 of them.   

Discovering a morning ritual made all the difference for Carol Whitman in 2020, and that ritual has carried her into the new year. Before the sun comes up, she stands by the woodstove arranging a living mandala, often made from flowers or parts of flowers and other natural materials: feathers, stones, sticks or clay beads. When there’s enough light, she takes a photograph, writes a caption, and publicizes it on social media or through an email to friends. “It’s a moment of serenity every morning when I look at her mandalas,” friend Bonnie Ruder said. “There’s a sense of ‘oh,’ and ‘ah’ and breathing.” After beginning the practice last June, the Inverness Park resident has published 55 of her mandala photographs in a book titled “Flowers for a Pandemic,” which was released last week. “It took my mind off the pandemic, and Trump, and then the [Woodward] Fire,” Ms. Whitman reflected. “I thought that I might stop when Biden won, but I’m not going to stop: I need to do it for my own peace of mind.” The first mandala was inspired by three small puffball mushrooms and two iris seedheads, which she brought home with her one day and, on a whim, began arranging on an outdoor table that had holes that formed concentric circles. A longtime gardener, Ms. Whitman uses much of what she grows or finds nearby, but she has also started receiving gifts, like a batch of cymbidium orchids from a supporter in Hawaii. In Sanskrit, “mandala” means “circle,” and creating mandalas is a focus of ritual and meditation across many religious traditions; the Tibetan term for mandala has a curious double meaning of both “center” and “surrounding environment.” Ms. Whitman’s mandalas vary—from colorful to stark, intricate to bold, layered to spacious. She diverges sometimes from the shape of the circle. Her captions are often personal and political. On Jan. 11, startlingly red Iris foetidissima seed pods, a cross of feathers, hellebore, wallflower petals and buds were paired with this sentiment: “Nine more days and I’ll be back to fully enjoying the color orange again. Nine more days until we can get on with the work of restoring our democracy. There is certainly a lot to do!” After a career in health care administration, Ms. Whitman said she finally found her genre at age 69. “It’s very absorbing,” she said. Friends pushed her to put her work into a book, which she published with the help of Editions One Books based in Berkeley in addition to creating greeting cards and single prints. She will be part of a group show at Toby’s Gallery in April. To buy the book and see the daily mandalas, visit