Monday, February 18, 2013

Art of the Heirloom: Cultural Seed Savers

Friday night I attended the opening of the exhibit Art of the Heirloom: Cultural Seed Savers at The Horticultural Society of New York. I heard about it through the Hudson Valley Seed Library's Seeder's Digest (love that!) e-mail newsletter. I admit to being a bit shocked, because I had never heard of the Horticultural Society of New York.

Half of the reason that I started this blog was that it seemed like very few people were online talking about urban gardening in New York City. I had spent a lot of time searching for information about gardening in New York City, and somehow I had never encountered the Horticultural Society, which is a shame, because it seems like an awesome place, and I can't wait to attend more of their events in the future.

The exhibit features the original artwork commissioned by the Seed Library for their art packs, seed packs featuring said original artwork. I'm no art critic, but I loved the agriculturally themed artwork, and I was fascinated to see the many different ways in which artists could interpret seeds and plants. The exhibit included everything from intricate botanical drawing, to abstract pieces, to very literal interpretations of the names of vegetable varieties like the Upstate Oxheart Tomato or King of the North Pepper. (Imagine how you'd interpret those, and then check out the artists' takes on the HVSL website - or better yet, at the exhibit, which is open through March 8!)

I was intrigued to notice a clever piece (the illustration for the Shaghai Baby Bok Choy) by Natalie Merchant. The name didn't register with me at first, but then I noticed that the artist's bio read "Natalie Merchant has earned the reputation for being a songwriter of great quality and a compelling live performer. She calls the fertile Hudson Valley her home, where she has been busy gardening and seed saving for 25 years." Could the painting be by that Natalie Merchant? My husband Ben (my husBen) thought it was obvious. "It says she's a songwriter!" I thought it too weird. Probably just some local singer and painter whose name happens to be Natalie Merchant, right? As it turns out, the Wikipedia entry for Natalie Merchant (the Natalie Merchant) says that she "likes gardening and painting," which is enough to make me admit that Ben was right, and that Natalie Merchant! designed the art pack for the baby bok choy.

Mid-90s singer-songwriters aside, the artwork in this exhibit touches on every imaginable facet of vegetable gardening - the culinary, the aesthetic, the botanical, the cultural, the linguistic - and is definitely worth seeing if any of these interest you.

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