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Abundant Future: Cultivating Diversity in Garden, Farm, and Field


Seneca Red Stalker Corn 2

Zea mays

I have long loved heritage corn, and I find the history of the varieties to be fascinating. I've been painting heritage corn for a few years now, always looking for different varieties, and over the years have tried to contact growers of obscure varieties. When the call for entries for this show came up, I knew I would paint corn. But finding varieties to meet the criteria was difficult, as I was looking for more obscure varieties, that were not as well known or as frequently grown. I contacted not only the gardens suggested but also followed leads from heirloom seed growers. as well as corn groups on Facebook.

This corn in my painting is Seneca Red Stalker, a flint corn for grinding into cornmeal, which can be used for breads, foods similar to polenta, grits, or a sort of mush. These ears came from a farmer in Alfred, NY, who is also a history teacher. It is a regional variety in Central and Western New York State and part of the Finger Lakes region, grown originally and for thousands of years by the Seneca Nation, one of the members of the Iroquois Confederacy or Six Nations, so well adapted to the climate there.

Plants that are grown in the same area over time develop regional adaptations to the soil, rainfall amounts, insect load, heat and sun index, so growers save the best seeds for planting the following year. Corn is wildly genetically diverse - the grower of my specimen selected only red kernels but the ears you see depicted in my painting, are anything but solid red. Corn or maize is part of the Three Sisters trio grown by the Seneca; the other plants were squash and beans. This particular corn grows about 7' tall and gives about 3-4 ears per stalk. The stalks are mostly a deep reddish purple, hence the name 'red stalker'.

When I received the fresh corn, I was able to move the still moist husks around the way I wanted them to look. I was so happy to see the colors and patterns in each kernel, and I was trying to build a narrative in my head of what the ears were doing. To illustrate the narrative in my head, I ended up sewing the corn to foam core so I could stand it up and light it from the top the way I wanted it. This painting reminds me of a family relationship, mom, dad, with smaller child in the center. This felt like a good metaphor for how the genetics seem to combine. It is the second painting in a continuing series: the first painting in this series had an overarching pattern of husks, the next variety is being grown in western Washington state, and the harvested plants should be shipping in October, so I'll be starting the next painting before the end of the year.

This painting took quite a while, starting in mid March and continuing until almost to the end of May. It is almost a ritual, or meditation, the daily preparations and painting. Every day, I sit at the easel, wake up my watercolors in the pans, and start to paint, then often not realizing that hours have passed. I take end of day progress photos, which sometimes I post on Facebook, or Patreon. Each painting has its own file, where reference photos, any pertinent plant information and the progress photos are stored, as well as the formal photos for show submissions and prints.

Each kernel was treated as an individual portrait, which I found soothing and frustrating all at the same time. This corn was painted at approximately life size.

I really hope that people can see not only how unique each kernel is, but how important every plant variety is to the genetic diversity that we need to continue life on earth.


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Abundant Future-Herron redstalker2

Zea mays

Seneca Red Stalker Corn 2

Watercolor on paper

24 x 18 inches

©2020 Albina P. Herron

2024 ASBA - All rights reserved

All artwork copyrighted by the artist. Copying, saving, reposting, or republishing of artwork prohibited without express permission of the artist.

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