Art of the Heirloom: A Growing Collection

by Ken Greene

Five years ago, when I was still running the Seed Library out of the Gardiner Library, I dreamed of having our own seed packs. I wanted our packs to tell the stories of the seeds and to communicate what I think is most important about our seeds- their diversity. I decided to try and find a way to have each pack designed by a different artist. I hoped that by using handmade artwork, we would be able to represent the imprint of the many hands the seeds have passed through to get to your garden.

Part of the exhibit at the Arts Center in Troy, New York

I also believe that part of what is missing in modern industrial agriculture is the "culture." In my mind, artists, as cultural seed savers, are a vital part of building sustainable, resilient, and responsible regional food systems. Luckily, at the same time that I was fantasizing about what our packs could be, Sarah Snow, of Treeo Design, was an avid library patron. After a bit of collaborative brainstorming and excitement, Sarah came in one morning with the prototype for what later became our Art Packs. That first year, the artist were all friends of mine. We only printed a few packs, and we held the first showing of the originals at the Gardiner Library.

With each year the applicant pool has grown, we've shown work in more venues, and drawn bigger crowds at each opening. Sarah and I have continued to work closely with each other every year to honor both the original intention of the artists and create spectacular packs for you to keep. Each new collection of art inspires us and this year is no different. With close to 200 artist submissions this year, it's going to take us at least a week to review all the entries and get back to the many creative and skilled artists who applied.

Our unique seed packs have inspired others to try their hand at interpreting heirlooms through art. At our last Art of the Heirloom exhibit, which was at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, our Art Manager, Michael Asbill, helped children make their own Sugar Baby Watermelon Art Packs to fill with seeds to take home and plant. A Seed Library member recently posted images on our Facebook page from art students in Scotland who used our signature Art Pack shape, style, and layout to create their own versions. Other more local art teachers have created assignments for their students based on our packs and sent us the resulting work.  Last September we mounted a special Art of the Heirloom exhibit open to all artists at the National Heirloom Expo. We'll be sending out the call for art for the second annual exhibit in May.

We're proud to be an example of valuing artists and showing how art is a meaningful and integral part of our lives. This September will be our fifth year anniversary of the first exhibit of our Contemporary Heirloom art collection. We're planning a series of shows including a few that will show the complete collection. If you have a gallery, center, museum or other space that would like to host the show, let us know!

Thank you for supporting our work growing, developing, preserving, and celebrating seeds! You are also supporting artists, small farms, local printers, galleries, libraries, and keeping the culture in agriculture alive and thriving. Save the seed!