Seed Story: Silver Slicer Cucumber

by Ken Greene

Silver Slicer Cucumber by pack artist Ann-Marie Gillett

Gardening is alchemy. Or at least it feels that way! Growing seeds, and especially improving varieties and creating new ones, is the definition of alchemy: "a magical process of transformation, creation, or combination." Just like the aspirations of alchemists, a good seed can grow a nutritious food to prolong life, a remedy for ills, and a delicious meal more precious than gold.

We're always on the lookout for the modern-day alchemists creating new and improved open-pollinated varieties. Sometimes the alchemist is a caring university plant breeder. Case in point: Silver Slicer Cucumber, a shimmering, powdery-mildew-resistant cuke that was developed by Michael Glos of Cornell University.

From the seed story inside the pack:

The Noblest Duke of Cukes

Silver is one of the noble metals. And just like the metal, this cucumber withstands heat, time, and weather. Precious silver and this delicious slicing cucumber share other important traits as well. Both are resistant: silver to corrosion and oxidation from moist air, and the cucumber to powdery mildews also caused by humid conditions. Let this silver-skinned cuke illuminate your garden, brighten your salads, and remind you to reflect on the joys of growing your own food."

Pack Art

Sketching out the pattern.

We shared the story of Silver Slicer with collage artist Ann-Marie Gillett. It's a story of collaboration and creativity centered at Cornell University. She listened with her artist's mind about Michael Glos's meticulous process of collecting and transferring pollen from the tiny cucumber flowers of Boothby's Blond and Marketmore. She noted the surprise of the silvery skin color— and the excellent taste and perfect crispness of the fruits.

Ann-Marie then used her unique process of painting artist tape, cutting it out, and assembling the cut pieces on wood board to tell the full story of this variety.

"My process of developing an image is truly organic," she says. "Working from an impression I may have from something I’ve observed in nature, or a basic organizational approach (like the symmetry of mandalas), once I begin to cut and apply tape to a surface the image grows in response to what I see. I love the freedom I have to follow an idea without restrictions."

Creating the collage.

Ann-Marie also created the art for our Red Noodle Bean Art Pack. "Having another opportunity to design an Art Pack has been gratifying because of the unique relationship this organization has with teaching ethical gardening practices, seed preservation, and supporting artists. Where else can you browse a catalog and not only be tempted by the amazing varieties of vegetables and flowers they offer, but also be exposed to a national array of art and artists’ work?!"

Of this new commission she said, "It challenged me to work with guidelines that made showing something to its best advantage very important. The selection of Silver Slicer was especially interesting, as I knew that my usual reliance on color contrasts was going to be limited to a more monochromatic palette. Instead, I tried to show different aspects of the plant, its flowers, vines, and cross-sections, to make the design intriguing. I also wanted to include the two other varieties of cucumbers Cornell used to breed this variety—Marketmore and Boothby Blonde—to show its origin."

Slicing up Silver Slicer!

We love the way Ann-Marie used a mandala structure for the design. She wanted to "complement the beautiful way this variety grows with its vines, tendrils and elongated shapes." But we also feel it shows the balance of science and art in creating new varieties. Ann-Marie had some other interesting thoughts about the meaning of the mandala pattern. "I think that when one gardens it’s easy to get in a state of mind that really is much like what I feel when making art. Concentration and purpose are clear, a lot of the noise of everyday life evaporates, and at the end of the day one feels like time was spent doing something worthwhile. The innate serenity of a mandala is a good way to reflect the state of mind a person can get while gardening and making art. Their relationship has always seemed natural to me."

We truly appreciate the time, care, skill, creativity, and thoughtfulness our pack artists put into their art! Ann-Marie's Silver Slicer Cucumber original art will be on display as part of our Art of Seed gallery exhibit coming to the Organic Seed Growers Conference, Philadelphia Flower Show, and Boston Flower Show.

Bio: Ann-Marie Gillett

Ann-Marie began her art career with a BS in art education from R.I. College. She continued her studies in painting, ceramics and printmaking at Rhode Island School of Design, Bennington College and Massachusetts School of Art and Design. Her teaching experience included working with students from early childhood to adults in the Brown University MAT program. She was a visual arts teacher and department head at the Wheeler School for most of her teaching life. Recently she returned to her studio practice full time and has exhibited her work with 19 on Paper at the Fitchburg Museum, Warwick Center for the Arts, and had solo shows for Gallery 175, and the Turks head Gallery for Gallery Night in Providence RI. Her work is sold in local galleries in RI and Massachusetts.

Her work has used a variety of art processes and currently is primarily created with an original painted tape collage technique she developed when masking out and building up surfaces while painting. At first the tape pieces used were scraps and the images formed using them began her “Process Diary” series. These scrap compositions morphed into creating painted strips of tape made in a methodical method with specific color palettes. Graphite, colored pencils, markers and charcoal are additionally used to develop her images. Much of her work grows from her life-long fascination and observation of the natural world with its ever-changing color relationships, patterns and visual rhythms. Work can be suggestive of her surroundings, explore the emotional potential of linear and color relationships, or sometimes be a more literal interpretation of her interaction and impressions of the natural world. Recent work making botanical mandalas shows her desire to use the inherent patterns and organization of growing things in a way that captures the serenity of symmetry, both visually and personally while in the process of making them.