From Seeds to Art: How Hundreds of Artists Help Heirloom Seeds Thrive

by Tusha Yakovleva

As seed savers, we know how to tell a seed’s genetic story. To tell it's cultural story, we always turn to art.call-for-art-webpage-banner

As seed savers, we know how to tell an heirloom seed’s genetic story. Grow it!  Our chosen medium is good soil combined with a keen eye to collect saved seeds. But what about a seed’s cultural story? What of the long history, the stories of the many hands that have passed it down, the lives of the people who selected it over the years for its flavor, beauty, or cultural significance? At the same time we have been losing the diversity in agriculture, we are losing the “culture” in agriculture as well.

pumpkWho do we turn to save these fertile stories? Artists. An artist’s medium, instead of soil, is paint, clay, paper. An artist tools, instead of trowels, is a paintbrush, scissors, a press. Artists are cultural seed savers, selecting which kernels of beauty, color, and form they hope to keep alive and pass on for future generations. Artists tell compelling stories by creatively envisioning the lives of flowers and vegetables, farms and gardens. Art inspires agriculture.

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That’s why, for the past nine years, instead of using stock photos of generic vegetables, we’ve been using original art on our seed packs. Every year, we put out a Call for Art, inviting artists to submit their (existing) work. We then choose around 15 artists who are paired up with heirloom seed varieties to create an original art piece, which is designed onto our art packs. The original work itself becomes a part of our permanent traveling art exhibit.

Last year alone, over 600 artists applied from all 50 states in the US. What started as a regional call for art, now extends to artists around the world, ranging from the up-and-coming to the world renowned and everything in between; representing diverse mediums, including watercolor, oil, collage, quilting, embroidery, carving, assemblage, stained glass, etching, handmade paper, seed mosaic, plant material collage, wood burning, metal work, and pottery.

Learn more about the collaborative process of creating art for seeds by browsing profiles of the artists and their art packs on our blog.  

Once the artwork is complete, we send it out into the world in three main ways:

The Traveling Exhibit: Every year, original artworks created over the last ten years by over 140 artists pack up and take off to tour museums, botanical gardens, flower shows, and many other venues (including Sotheby’s Auction House and the Albany Airport) throughout the Northeast and beyond. The Art of the Heirloom gallery show has been displayed as close as the Gardiner Library (the birthplace of the Hudson Valley Seed Library), as far west as California at the National Heirloom Expo, and internationally in Japan! It’s a chance to see the original works commissioned for our seed packs and get up close and personal with each artist's interpretation of their variety.

So far in 2019, the gallery show is going to the Staten Island Museum for their "Field Notes: Seed Stories and the Power of Plants" exhibition, to the Shumei International Institute in Japan and to the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rose, CA.

FIELD NOTES: SEED STORIES AND THE POWER OF PLANTS

Italienischer LettuceItalienischer-Quily-by-Jeanne-Benson-2The Art Packs: The art packs have become integral to our identity as a seed company. Not only are they an exciting and supportive collaboration between sustainable art and agriculture, but they are our way of preserving and sharing the cultural seed stories that are such important characteristics of the heirloom seeds themselves. Each pack adds to our ever-expanding library for seed stories, a growing collaborative visual record of art, regionality, and respectful, fertile intersections of modern and ancient agriculture. 

The art pack - from the distinct flower shape to the easily removed sticker - are meant to live on even after the seeds are in the ground. We encourage gardeners to save and frame the art packs, as year-round reminders of the beauty and creativity that arises from seeds, whether the preferred tool is a paintbrush or a shovel.

Art Prints: Finally, as a bridge between the original art and the art packs, another way to support our artists and put art and culture back into agriculture, we offer museum quality, limited-run fine art prints, numbered and signed by the artists. Click the Tri-Color Bean Print below to see our current print collection:

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