By Staten Island Museum, Rachel Somma – March 2019
The Staten Island Museum gets back to its roots with – Field Notes: Seed Stories and the Power of Plants, a new exhibition of projects based in art and science that opens to the public on Saturday, April 13, 2019 and runs through February 23, 2020.
Field Notes will feature artworks and seed histories from Hudson Valley Seed Company, documentary videos of Staten Island gardeners by Jay Weichun, photograms of local flora by Gale Wisdom, and museum botanical specimens selected by the Greenbelt Native Plant Center. These four projects explore the cultural, artistic, and scientific impact of collecting plant life. In doing so, they reveal narratives of resilience, fragility, and transformation. Field Notes speaks to the heritage embedded in the flora around us and offers unique sensory opportunities for visitors to interact with the exhibition.
Visitors can zoom in to see a variety of seeds up close through a high powered microscope, immerse their hands in a mass of seeds for a tactile experience, design their own seed packet, and listen to featured seed stories that provided the base of inspiration for several artworks on view. Visitors can also enjoy some quiet time in the book nook which highlights a selection of lively and informative books on seeds and gardening.
“The collecting and preserving of plant life is deeply ingrained in the fabric of the Staten Island Museum. The museum was founded in 1881 by a group of young naturalists who pooled their collections and research efforts begin preserving what is now an unbroken record of biodiversity spanning 150 years. With Field Notes, the Museum is proud to showcase these likeminded artists and scientists who are carrying forward the founders’ tradition in their own ways in a confluence of art, natural science, and history.” Janice Monger, Staten Island Museum President and CEO.
The exhibition highlights late 19th century botanical specimens from the Museum’s collection that have been recently digitized and made publicly accessible online along with the original field notes from when they were collected. The Greenbelt Native Plant Center has selected examples representing the varied plant communities of Staten Island. Visitors can decode the environment around them by learning about the plant communities in their own neighborhoods and the island as a whole.
Hudson Valley Seed Company commissions artists to create the covers of their seed packets inspired by the origin stories of the seeds. As described by Ken Greene, Co-founder, Hudson Valley Seed Company and Seedshed, “Seeds come with many stories; they have multiple origin stories—geographical, cultural, personal, biological, and spiritual. Their stories are circles made up of countless beginnings. The stories that mean the most to me are those that help us imagine the hands that touched the seeds before they reached our hands. When we plant them and save seeds, those fingerprints, etched into the seed coat, interweave with our own.”
Artist Gale Wisdom, based in Rosebank, Staten Island, creates elegant cameraless photo prints of local flora collected on neighborhood walks. The artist states: “My transition from a single weed specimen to bunches of weeds created, by chance, a negative with unique graduations. Abstract highlights and small lanterns of light appear where berries or seeds lay trapped beneath a leaf.” An installation of Gale Wisdom’s photograms will be featured in Field Notes.
For the series Growing Food on Staten Island, Jay Weichun interviewed local gardeners and captured their experience on film over the course of several years. “My primary focus as an artist at that time was to try to understand the people and places of Staten Island. If I wanted to deepen my understanding of cultural continuity and of many things central to the social and cultural fabric of this borough, I needed to start with those who have no choice but to dig into the soil and create beauty. I needed to start with the people who could not stop doing it even if they tried.”
Members Preview: Friday, April 12, 7pm – 9pm
Free for current museum members. RSVP to 718.483.7119 or AStraniere@StatenIslanndMuseum.org
Public Exhibition Opening Reception: Saturday, April 13, 12pm – 2pm
Free with museum admission.
Earth Day Celebration: How-To Festival: Saturday, April 27, 12pm – 4pm
Free with museum admission.
Join us as we transform the museum into a giant interactive science fair! Hands-on workshops, drop-in presentations, and scheduled lectures take place throughout the museum. Local experts, enthusiasts, hobbyists, and professionals share their particular passions, ranging from activities that require highly specialized skills to those anyone can do. Celebrate our community’s know-how, learn something new, and help protect the only world we have.
Staten Island Museum is located on the grounds of Snug Harbor Cultural Center, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Building A, Staten Island, NY 10301.
About the Artists
Jay Weichun was born and raised in Staten Island, New York. His work focuses on stories rooted in locality and individual narratives of creative expression and community building. In addition to Growing Food on Staten Island, Weichun has produced several short documentary and experimental works focusing on the people and places of Staten Island. In 2016, he created Through the Plexiglass, a video installation that focused on the development of the Island’s North Shore. It was featured in the 2016 Lumen Festival. He received his MFA in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College and currently resides in Elburn, Il with his wife and children.
Hudson Valley Seed Company
Ken Greene is the cofounder of The Hudson Valley Seed Company (HVSC) where the science of organic cultivation is combined with the history of seeds and the power of art. They supply gardeners with heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. To do so, they identify, cultivate, and grow seed for varieties of vegetables, flowers, and herbs in their production gardens in Accord, New York. They research the history and heritage of each seed and explore how and why these stories have changed over time. Lastly, they commission works of art to represent each variety they sell. These artworks help communicate the larger narrative encapsulated in each seed. Over the past ten years, HVSC has commissioned over 140 original works of art, reproduced as unique seed packets.
Artist Gale Wisdom lives and works in New York. She received her MFA from University of Arizona in 1992. After living most of her life in the West and Southwest, Gale and her partner made their way to Rosebank, Staten Island, in 1999 where she continues to find inspiration.
As a student, one of her first classes was in darkroom process and included photograms. This formative experience led to her continued work with photography. Finding digital imaging an interesting science, she worked in the stock image industry for several years. However, her connection to the experimental nature of handcrafted pictures made in the darkroom persists. The slower pace of this photographic process offers her fertile ground for creativity and exploration into the uncertain effects of light and shadow on an endless supply of subjects.
Communications Manager, Staten Island Museum
1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY 10301
About the Staten Island Museum
Founded in 1881 and celebrating its 138th year, the Staten Island Museum engages visitors with interdisciplinary exhibitions and educational programs that explore the dynamic connections between natural science, art, and history based on its diverse collections. Staten Island Museum is owned by the City of New York and benefits from public funds provided through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. For current exhibits, visit StatenIslandMuseum.org.
Daniel Baxter, Pen and Ink, collage, Blue Jade Sweet Corn (Zea mays), On loan from the Hudson Valley Seed Company
Gale Wisdom, 12 Bouquets. Photogram, 2014-2016