March 18,2013, the National Museum for Women in the Arts hosted a documentary film about Margaret Mee. In it, a British family describes Mee:
“She was quite passionate, so it was probably good that she went to Brazil to paint flowers instead of going to Hyde Park all the time and speaking about one issue or another as she did in Britain”.
Mee’s passion was environmentalism– before it was widely understood. Her paintings and botanical finds documented how serious environmental destruction had become even in the farthest reaches of the Amazon River.The documentary focused on close-ups of watercolor paintings by Mee, interviews by her friends, and included both real and re-created footage of Mee’s trips to collect plants.
Stories told about her painted a picture of a dynamic and persistent nature lover but also someone who was a bit eccentric. One story was that she kept the garden in the back of her house as dense as the jungle. When a large poisonous snake was found in the undergrowth, she was only persuaded to remove it when warned that it might kill the gardener. Another time, she broke up a rowdy garden party in her neighbor’s back yard by climbing the wall between the two houses and peering over the garden wall with her long white hair flowing and her white nightgown blowing, the revelers mistook her for a ghost and everyone ran away.
Despite stories like these, Mee was a serious botanical artist. She began her work in a botanical garden, and the age of forty-seven she moved to Brazil. She eventually ended up taking 15 journeys into the furthest reaches of the Amazon. She encountered Jaguars, and aboriginal natives along with undiscovered Bromeliads and Orchids. On one of her first trips, Her British companions left her in the jungle and she was forced to find her own way back to civilization, but not before being threatened by bandits who ran away when she pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot them. There was also a Native Chief who expressed a desire for her long white hair. She told him her husband wouldn’t let her come back home to him without her long hair, so, reluctantly, the Chief let her go.
Mee was in her 80’s for her fifteenth adventure. During it, she fulfilled a life-long dream of painting the Moon flower, a rare plant that flowered only one day a year and only for the night of that day. She located a plant that was in bud, monitored it daily, and when the flower started to open, she stayed up all night to capture the event.
Soon after, this life of adventure ended in Britain. Margaret had come to America to speak about her work and be interviewed on television. Then, she returned to England to speak with the Prince of Wales about her cause. However, it was in England that she stepped in front of a car and was killed—not a fitting end for an explorer of jungles, but as her relative had said, “She belonged in Brazil and not in a more civilized environment”.