Archive for October 28th, 2012

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Community Supporting Agriculture/Arts

October 28, 2012

Harlow Gallery, Hallowell

This past week I was invited to the Harlow Gallery to join a focus group they were having on Education and Programming that will provide information for their upcoming strategic planning meeting. I was glad to be part of a conversation with several community people who have varying connections with the Harlow Gallery. In many ways the Harlow is a model gallery for playing an important role in the Hallowell community.

I was especially happy to be meeting in the gallery with art all around and more so because of the unique exhibit they were having called Community Supporting Agriculture/Arts or CSA. Some of you might be familiar with CSAs. When my sons were younger we belonged to a CSA near our home. We paid in the spring for a share of food and each week during the summer we’d stop at the farm and pick up a surprise box filled with vegetables. The focus of the Arts connection is very exciting. It is easy for me to think of potential ideas on how to create something similar with students.

Retired Cony High School art teacher Christine Higgins is one of the artists who participated in the project along with one of my former students Erskine Academy art teacher Scott Minzy. Last weeks Maine Sunday Telegram had an outstanding article written by Bob Keyes on the project. I emailed Christine and she agreed to provide a description on the project and include her experience at Annabesacook Farm located in Winthrop.

In March of 2012, I was one of 14 artists chosen to participate in a CSA – Community Supporting Agriculture/Arts project sponsored through the Harlow Art Gallery in Hallowell, Maine. Each artist was paired with a CSA farm. We visited our farms throughout the next 8 months with the goal of creating art from those experiences. Our discoveries and stories about the farms are reflected in the various Maine exhibits at different venues through February.

sketch of soil map

My focus was on fibers, papermaking, and prints. My initial proposal was to abstractly ‘map’ the land. Through conversation with Craig Hickman, one of the farm owners, I learned specifics about raising animals, crop cultivation, and an attitude about farming that integrates responsibility of the land with the community. I soon discovered that my ‘farm’ was also a bed and breakfast, catering service, site for weddings, and other events. My ‘farmer’ was an author, poet, performing artist, philanthropist, Rotarian, and is currently running for the legislature to represent Winthrop and Readfield.

making paper in the vat

Gathering fibers from the farm, I made paper with cattails, cornstalks, garlic stems, meadow grasses, collard greens, and clay as pigment. Land and our attitudes about the earth was my primary subject.  I collected essays in response to my question, “What do you think of when you hear the word, land?”, and incorporated these on handmade paper maps, which were inserted into cattail baskets, that the audience may take out, touch, read, and reflect on their own relationship to the earth.

paper relief map with pulp painting

As I became more familiar with Annabesacook Farm, the geography, dwellings and residents influenced other themes in my work.  These farm ‘stories’ were printed on my handmade paper. 

I found that the parallels between artist and farmer are considerable: we both work many hours in satisfying, timeless, and seasonal work. Both artist and farmer are self-directed individuals, who, when not actually present in the studio or field, are thinking about their work. The endeavor becomes the fiber of the being.  

A CSA is collaboration with an audience, much as an artist’s exhibit depends on the support of its viewers. Both thrive on the excitement and satisfaction of successful production that involves a life-long, heart and soul commitment. Artist and farmer pursue a balanced life of seclusion, reflection, and production that welcomes an audience of community partnership. We both have a driving desire to care for, transform, mold, process, and shape through drudgery, sweat, stress, problem-solving, and creative, independent thinking. Both activities are risky with an unpredictable element. Craig once said to me, “Farming is not romantic – it will make you sore.”

Cattail maps

I hope that the art created because of this project increases awareness of the vital importance of the resources provided by the earth and appreciation for those who cultivate that delicate balance of farming and giving back to the land.

The concept for this project originated with Deb Fahy, Director of Harlow Gallery, and was supported by a tireless team of staff and volunteers. A manual for communities interested in a similar idea of pairing farms and artists will soon be available through the Harlow.  More information can be found at www.harlowgallery.org, including photos and blogs of the activities.

Chris and Craig at the Harlow opening

The Harlow Gallery exhibit closed yesterday, October 27th but there are many other locations that you can see the exhibit during the next 4 months.

  • Common Street Arts, Waterville  Nov. 3 – 30th 
  • Sheepscot General Store, Whitefield  Nov. 9 – Dec. 1st
  • Savory Maine Dining, Damariscotta  Nov. 13 – Feb. 5
  • Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, Belfast  Jan. 4th – Feb. 27
  • Art Gallery at Frontier, Brunswick  Jan. 11 – Feb. 24th

Thank you to Chris for providing this description and her part in the project.!

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