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Down to Earth: Artists to Create Edible Landscapes at the Schuylkill Center
Stacy Levy (Spring Mills, PA) will create a work titled Kept Out, consisting of an enclosure of blue metal fencing that will exclude deer from a small piece of the woods as a way to investigate how the deer alters their edible landscape. Photo: Z. Cohen.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Down to Earth: Artists Create Edible Landscapes is an exhibition that highlights the growing focus and emergence of “green” principles and sustainability in relationship to food, art, design and agriculture. The exhibition will include six artists or artist teams who are all working to create socially engaging interventions in the landscape related to food and agriculture, creating an aesthetic and cultural link between art and farming.

Several food writers including Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle have helped to propel a new generation of interest in issues related to organic growing, heirloom seeds, buying food locally, farmers markets and backyard kitchen gardens. Michele Obama’s White House vegetable garden has helped to bring these issues to the forefront of mainstream culture. Recent films such as Fast Food Nation, and Food Inc, have focused on the negative results of monocultural farming used in industrial agriculture, factory farming methods and inhumane processing of livestock.

With the economic downturn, and rising fuel and food prices, a new focus on sustainability is emerging and artists are engaging these important issues. Works by artists are currently being exhibited internationally that address how food is grown, transported and consumed.

Down to Earth at The Schuylkill Center
With its preserved open space and agricultural history, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education presents a unique opportunity for artists to engage with the landscape. The site of the exhibition, Brolo Farm, is a small section of the overall 300 plus acres at SCEE and was at one time a working farm, though long ago abandoned. Each of the artists has created a large-scale work outdoors in this 3-acre site.

The artists in Down to Earth: Artists Create Edible Landscapes include:

Joan Bankemper (NYC) who is creating a contemporary “earthwork” which will function as a medicinal herb garden. Titled Willa after the Paleolithic fertility figure Venus of Willendorf, the garden is based on this archaic form. Inside the figure are 7 circles representing Hindu chakras or energy centers from root to crown; each chakra is planted with herbs that respectively lead to healing for that area of the body.

Artist Knox Cummin, (Philadelphia, PA) has constructed a rain water collection sculpture off of the roof of the existing farmhouse complete with rain barrels, piping and irrigation system. Inside this “room” is a vegetable garden by Ann Rosenthal and Steffi Domike (Pittsburgh, PA) benefiting from the rainwater being collected. Titled An American Roots Garden, it includes foods common to early America, including Native American crops and those brought by settlers and immigrants. These include corn, squash, and beans (the "three sisters"), a variety of potatoes and tomatoes, beets, carrots, sunflowers, marigolds, and herbs. The garden is laid out in a quilt-type pattern that provides a structure to consider the evolution and story of five staple crops and how food cultures are lost or preserved.

Simon Draper and the Habitat for Artists Collective, with Todd Sargood, Odin Cathcart, Jeff Bailey and Cathy Liebowitz (Hudson Valley, NY) have installed a work titled Drawn to / Drawn from the Garden consisting of a mini art studio, potting shed, and 7 vegetable gardens, 2 of which local artists and school groups have been invited to adopt. This project has provided opportunities for collaboration and for local school children to engage with by having them create artwork panels for the exterior of the shed.

Stacy Levy (Spring Mills, PA) will create a work titled Kept Out, consisting of an enclosure of blue metal fencing that will exclude deer from a small piece of the woods as a way to investigate how the deer alters their edible landscape. The deer's meal choices affect the growth of the forest and the field: their grazing results in fewer seedlings of native tree, shrub and herbaceous species. Due to human influence, deer populations are out of balance and destroying the sustainability of their own food sources.

Susan Steinman's (San Francisco, CA) Urban Defense, is an urban apple orchard based on permaculture methods of planting. Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural that mimic the relationships found in natural ecological systems. This garden installation is housed within a built structure made of reclaimed windows and doors allowing viewers to view the permaculture planting system. The exterior form is based on the pentagon shape that the seeds make when an apple is sliced in half.

Schuylkill Center | Joan Bankemper | Knox Cummin | Simon Draper | Stacy Levy | Susan Steinman |

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