Meet the Artist - Honeynut Squash

by Isabel Vinton

With her gorgeous, animated, and intensely detailed woodcuts, artist Valerie Lueth of Tugboat Printshop keeps alive an ancient art tradition while adding her own distinctive tastes and talents to the mix - much like the work of plant breeders. Her beautiful woodcut, showing two open hands offering forth a delicious honeynut butternut, surrounded by the promise of plant growth and rebirth, serves as the perfect cover image for the holidays – a time of reflection, harvest, thanks and hope for the future.

About her art Valerie says, “most of my artistic practice is focused on the creation of woodcut prints. I enjoy the methodic & meditative process of drawing, carving, and printing from wood. Making woodcuts is time-intensive, especially when working in color. I make my original drawings directly to blocks of 3/4" birch plywood and then carve the drawings in low relief by hand with v&u-gouges. The finished carvings are rolled with oil based inks using assorted brayers/colors & cranked through a printing press, impressing ink to paper. I create multiple blocks when making color works; the blocks print in register, one layer of ink on top of the next, to build the finished image. Each print I make becomes a puzzle to solve--each block added lends its own uncontrollable & distinct elements through woodgrain. The subtle layers of texture from the natural patterning of wood pairs with the crisply cut lines in my drawings in a pleasing way--I have worked in woodcut for 12 years now and continue to be motivated and challenged by the medium!”

A delicious honeynut ready for eating.

In addition to Valerie's ability to tell stories through her art using small details, there's something about the quality of the carving and block prints that we find comforting in the same way we think of winter squash as a comfort food. Her subject is of course the now famous honeynut squash, a delightful mini butternut bred at Cornell University. They are a miniaturized version of the standard butternut, and have excellent flavor and texture. In fact, at a recent staff taste test, we rated the honeynuts 5 out of 5 and decided they tasted exactly like pumpkin pie filling (this was after roasting them, nothing more). They’re truly a treat for those who thought they couldn’t fit a winter squash into their gardens.

Look closely at the artwork and you’ll see some mini mastodons. But how many?? Squashes were once too large, too bitter, and too seedy for humans to stomach. But mastodons had different tastes, giant molars, and bigger guts. Their stature also had a huge impact on the soil, creating disturbances that were ideal squash habitat. After the megafauna faded, it was humans who created a niche - in their gardens - in which squash could survive.

As well as the mastodons, Valerie also wants you to notice “the quatrefoil shape in this print--nestling the squash's growth into this geometry as twisting vines, leaves, flowers and fruit. She hopes "that the image can convey the joy of watching a plant's growth in the span of a season & maybe inspire others to want to try gardening/find deeper connect with the earth in the bond that comes with tending it.”

Valerie in the Tugboat Printshop studio

Talking about the process of creating this print, Valerie told us “I always grow squash in my Pittsburgh community garden, so it was very enjoyable to take what I know about its growth from years of gardening and translate that energy into a print! My work often takes the natural world as a subject, though my goal isn't to replicate real life in exactitude. I try to capture little complexities that might otherwise go unnoticed, and looking closely tends to inspire other visual stories to take hold.

Gardening allows me feel connected to the pulse of growth/life around that otherwise is very easy to neglect in the daily bustle, especially living in an urban area. Watching and working with that living energy brings inspiration on many fronts--personally and artisically.  I feel a pride in the success of the vegetables I bring home to the table. I take time to watch, look, learn, care each time I visit my garden--the peace it brings flows in & out.”

How many mastodons did you find in the artwork? Let us know in the comments!