Without a doubt, Double Red Sweet Corn is of the most beautiful corns we've ever seen. It's deep red from root to tassel: kernels, husk, foliage, cob, and silk. The dark kernels are naturally high in anthocyanins, the same antioxidants linked to dark red, purple and blue pigments that abound in Dragon Carrot. Double Red is so delightful that it remains one of our most-liked Instagram posts! Delicious fresh, this corn can also be dried for a striking cornmeal and flour.
The spectacularly red tone of this sweet corn was achieved by the brilliant Dr. Alan Kapuler (aka Mushroom) of Peace Seeds, who has developed new varieties on his small organic farm for decades. His work with this corn, of course, builds on centuries of selection done by indigenous people of the Americas, illustrating how our gardens are continuations not just of plant genetics, but of history. In this way, Double Red isn't just doubly red: it doubles our picture of the seed. It mirrors the varieties that have come before it in the same way that the double helix of DNA in one plant is mirrored in its offspring. Double Red is a returning favorite to our seed catalog, but this year we finally decided it deserved an Art Pack of its own. Lucky for us, we found an artist whose work and interests mirrored, shall we say, our needs. June Glasson is a Millerton, NY-based artist and illustrator. She shared with us the journey of discovering this seed and creating the art to adorn it.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and the art you make?
I divide my time in my studio between my painting—I love to create portraits of women who play with and challenge our notions of how women should behave and be seen—and what I would call my more collaborative work, which includes illustrating book covers, creating maps with scientists, and community art projects and murals. I make art because it brings me joy and because it helps me process the world around me.
In many ways this variety was a perfect fit for you. Can you talk about your connection to it?
My mother use to live in Stone Ridge and was always sending me your seed packages. They were these great little gifts—a piece of art wrapped around some wonderful seeds that I could plant in my garden and watch grow. As soon as I saw a picture of the Double Red Sweet Corn and read about its history I knew I wanted to design the package for these seeds. Visually this species of corn is incredibly striking because of its beautiful monochromatic coloring. I was also excited that its name included “double.” In much of my own work I deploy doubling when creating visual arrangements. The process by which I use doubling or mirroring is something that I find incredibly satisfying and mediative and it's a process that I thought would be a perfect fit for a design for this seed cover.
For some varieties with a more recent breeding history, we ask the artist to speak directly with the breeder. How was that experience for you?
Right away I knew that I needed to learn more about the history of these seeds and so I began to exchange e-mails with Ken Greene. He was able to share more information with me, but also recommended I speak directly to Alan Kapuler, who bred these seeds. I ended up having an amazing conversation with Alan. We talked about making art and the pollination process of corn, and he shared some of his personal history with me. He also talked to me about how he had spent years crossbreeding these seeds with other plants to create a monochromatic plant high in anthocyanins, which have great health benefits. He also shared how he had placed these seeds under the protection of open source seeds so as to keep them in the public domain and to ensure that they can continue to be shared. His enthusiasm for plants and seed sharing was pretty awesome!
After you had done your research on the variety, how did you compose this piece?
Through my exchanges with Ken and Alan, I was able to pick out imagery that I felt like spoke to the story of the Double Red Corn. I knew I wanted the package to feature the corn itself and its components—silks, tassels, stalk, leaves, cobs, and roots. It was also important for the design to include imagery that spoke to the concepts of “Seed Sharing” and “Open Source Seeds” and while it was a challenge, I did end up settling on the image of a set of open hands as a way to the communicate these ideas. I included two sets of figures with a single seed floating between them as a way to represent seed sharing.
I also included other elements: a bird (to represent seed dispersal), farm tools, field rows, the sun and moon, chromosomes, the formula for anthocyanins, and a mushroom (Alan's nickname.) Once I had collected all this imagery I started to think about the layout and composition of the package. I knew I wanted the corn and the open hands to be the largest and most central of the images. I then used the additional images to create an imperfect mirroring that felt balanced and would work within the format of the packaging as well as the stand alone piece of artwork. I started by sketching the images on a primed wooden panel and then I used acrylics to paint in the images.
Through the process of designing this seed pack, what have you learned about how art and growing interact?
This has been been a wonderful project to work on. It's always fun and challenging to have to consider how to conceptually and visually tell a complex story within a prescribed format. My hope is that I've created a beautiful design that not only showcases my work as an artist but that tells the story behind this beautiful corn in a way that pays homage to both Alan and the seed breeders who came before him. While I'm an artist, I'm also an avid gardener, and for me the impulse to create art, to make things with one's own hands, and to grow things all springs from the same place. ■
We believe June's work has most certainly accomplished that. We invite you to pay your own homage by planting Double Red this season. Step into this legacy with gratitude, care, and reverence: you are, through your garden, carrying on the work of countless ancestors.
To see more of June's work, visit her website and follow her on Instagram @studio_glasson.
How To Grow Double Red Sweet Corn
Direct sow outdoors after the threat of frost has passed, until mid-summer. Sow corn seeds directly 3-4" apart, in rows spaced 36" apart in blocks of at least 4 rows to insure proper pollination for kernel formation. Thin plants to indicated spacing if necessary. Corn requires fertile soil and little attention. Water during dry periods. Harvest when ears are full and kernels are swollen and milky. Take care not to let ears over-ripen.