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Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared in the Vail Daily:
Though she’s lived in Colorado for many years, originally moving here to study at the University of Denver, EagleVail’s Esther Brans is still deeply connected to her native Netherlands. Dutch culture infuses much of what she does as a photographer, artist and creative product inspiration at the chain of retail and medical marijuana stores her husband Daniel founded – Tumbleweed.
Brans’ gorgeously photographed 2018 coffee-table book “Colorado Flower” draws on inspiration from the master painters of the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age, who specialized in still-life realism. But the book has a modern edge and a pioneering twist that, instead of bowls of fruit, features aggressive-looking marijuana plants intertwined with brilliantly colored flowers.
The buds and leaves of various strains of sativa and Indica are overlaid on spectacular orchids, roses, daffodils, delphiniums and that omnipresent Dutch treasure, the tulip, which was the bitcoin of the 1600s until it crashed in the great Tulip Mania (Tulpenwindhandel) bubble of 1637. Colorado’s modern marijuana industry has much greater staying power, Brans says.
A former fashion model, Brans inspired Tumbleweed’s Dutch Girl and Nordic Goddess product lines, which include the award-winning, infused Dutch Girl Stroopwafels. A Dutch street treat and staple of coffeeshops, markets and fairs, stroopwafels (syrup waffles) came to Colorado in cannabis form after Daniel first tasted them at their wedding on a beach in Holland. Dutch Girl Stroopwafels recently won Westword’s Best of Denver, Best Edibles Company.
But there’s something else Brans, a world traveler who speaks five languages, would like to import to the United States from the Netherlands – and that’s the Dutch attitude of laissez faire, or hands-off acceptance of cannabis. During her childhood, growing up in a suburb of Rotterdam, Brans said cannabis culture was centered more on the capital city of Amsterdam.
“So it was more something that you just knew was out there and it wasn’t super-mainstream when I grew up, and now it is, but nobody made a huge deal out of it,” Brans said. “And there’s not the same stigma attached with it [in Holland], and here there is.”
Brans hopes her book has a normalizing effect, with more people in Colorado becoming comfortable displaying “Colorado Flower” on the coffee tables of their ski homes the way cannabis is casually and comfortably consumed in the coffee shops of the Netherlands.
“It’s already undergone a huge shift,” Brans said of Colorado’s marijuana industry since legalization in 2012. “And back then it had much more of a stigma, much, much more. But that’s really kind of smoothed over, so I do think people are becoming way more accepting of it.”
Still, she notes that alcohol in America is still far more socially acceptable and celebrated at bars and restaurants up and down Bridge Street in Vail Village while marijuana stores, including Tumbleweed’s medical shop, are relegated to the U.S. Highway 6 “Green Mile” in EagleVail. Tumbleweed also has a prominent retail store in “downtown” Edwards, but both Avon and Vail have declined to allow both medical and retail marijuana sales.
For Brans, it’s just a matter of time until the plant she loves to painstakingly photograph comes fully out of the shadows and is properly recognized for its medicinal, mood-altering, aesthetic and artistic value. She’s certain a book like “Colorado Flower” can only help.
The project took her years to compile, and it’s noteworthy that the only Photoshopping involved was to clean up the backgrounds to make them white. The delicate plant compositions are portrayed exactly as they were – often in tough conditions with poor lighting in a grow facility. Because of Colorado law, pot plants can’t be removed from the various grow facilities.
“If you shoot in a studio, you keep your circumstances exactly the same, so then you have a formula and all your photos are done consistently,” Brans said. “But if you shoot on location and the light’s constantly different, you might get a light blue background, you might get more red backgrounds, and that just doesn’t look good.”
The first photo included roses for Valentine’s Day, and the project grew from there to three dozen dazzling compositions that are sometimes startling, sometimes soothing.
“The book, I’m very proud of. It’s truly a labor of love and a passion,” said Brans, who has also photographed wildlife and landscapes from Central America to Antarctica. “I loved Antarctica; I felt so blessed to be there and it was amazing, but … it’s been photographed to death. No one’s done this, so I feel incredibly lucky to be pioneer.”