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


Glass Gem Corn

Zea mays

Glass gem corn is a flint corn used for flour, popping corn, and as a beautiful ornamental. It was developed by a part Cherokee and part Scottish farmer from Oklahoma named Carl Barnes. Carl, a member of Seed Savers Exchange, spent years carefully choosing, saving and replanting selected kernels to develop and enhance the stunning colors and gem like quality of this special variety well into his old age. Barnes then bestowed his precious seed collection to Greg Schoen, his corn-breeding protégé, and then in 2010 Schoen passed on several of Carl’s unique corn varieties to fellow seed saver Bill McDorman, who is a former Executive Director of Native Seeds/Search.

I came across this corn by chance in 2018 when I saw a Facebook post showing cobs with gorgeous, colorful, and translucent gem-like kernels. While looking up more images of this spectacular corn, I was wowed by the unreal look of the kernels and knew that I needed to try and paint it if I could. I ordered a pack of 100 seeds and planted a dense circle about six feet across in my backyard, probably way too close together, but I really wanted to get something to come up. The only area that I could place my plot was in a semi-shady spot, along with Minnesota’s short growing season the cobs never grew much over six inches long and many were very tiny. Though I ended up with only about fifteen ears, what did develop was very exciting.

In the fall, I pried open their husks, one at a time, like opening a special present. What I found was a range of stunning colored cobs. Some of the cobs had soft baby blue, soft pink and soft yellow kernels with pink tinged husks and silk. While another cob was mostly all dark, iridescent kernels with undertones of deep blues, reds and greens, there would be an occasional pop from a bright yellow kernel here and there amongst the glowing darkness. Many of the cobs were not fully developed and had dimpled, cloudy kernels and also dried, undeveloped tips that gave the impression of being interrupted on the way to becoming something stunning. There were a couple of cobs that seemed like it was dipped into a bag of multi-colored glass beads and their gem quality kernels shone brightly.

I took hundreds of photographs by propping each drying cob, as if they were in a photoshoot, against a grey or back background. In the end, two specimens stood out to me. They had delicate, twisting and turning husks, tangled silk, and a variety of textures and colors. The gestures that their husks made gave them each a different personality, and the whole effect was as if they were beautiful dancers. My painting of Zea mays is of one of these dancers. It is on Kelmscott vellum, about . I am the kind of painter that needs to work with an area for a while; changing and correcting what I’ve already put down until I’m happy with it. For this reason, I love to work on kelmscott vellum, rather than watercolor paper, taking advantage of its giving nature.

My painting is of a small two-inch multicolored cob with only about fifteen kernels showing. They are yellow, orange, green, pink, and dark blue. The overall shape of my subject is similar to a rounded off W and is dominated by the strands of husks, roughly centered on the page. The cob is nestled and peeking out of a cup of twisting and curling pink, purple, white, and gold tinged husks that remind me of a dancer’s delicate, flowing fabric. The cob itself is weighted at the bottom of the W and the tuft of umbored corn silk coming from the top of the cob travels along the deep purple and light pink twisting husk that is reaching towards the upper right corner of the piece. The curling, ribbon-like husk on the left tangle together and then begin to bend up towards the right corner to almost meet itself to close the W.

The two most important things that I continually pushed myself to describe in this piece were the lightness and crispness of the husk texture and the glassy luminosity of the kernels themselves; otherwise it wouldn’t do the name justice. I pushed myself to understand the structure of each part of the husk; where was it originating from? Where was it in space? How did it interact with other structures? What helped me immensely was to follow the husk’s tiny rib’s twists and turns. When trying to develop the glass gem quality of each kernel, I needed to concentrate on building the form with tiny surface highlights, gradation of tone, reflected light, and layers of color to give the translucent quality to the kernel. I hope that I did that, and when I embark on the second “dancer” that caught my eye, I plan to challenge myself to push the glassy quality of the kernels even more.


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Read more about this artist’s work: 22nd Annual

Abundant Future-medved-lufkin- -linda-glass-gem-corn

Zea mays

Glass Gem Corn

Watercolor on vellum

12 x 10 inches

©2019 Linda Medved Lufkin

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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