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Guest Post: Plants as Memory and Doorways to our past

 

by Carol Hoffman-Guzman, Founding Director of Arts At St Johns, Miami Beach, FL

Plants bring remembrances to me about my father and mother, my grandparents, special places I have lived and visited, and various adventures and projects. I like the smells and textures of plants. Some people like the sweet smell of flowers; I like the strange and musky smell of plant leaves. When I meet a new plant, I pick a leaf, rub it around with my fingertips, and then crush it and bring it to my nose to sniff. Some plants are waxy to the touch, others are fuzzy.

I remember the way the plants shine in the sunlight at different times of the day and the way that they look in different seasons — what happens when the heat is heavy or the rain intense. I have heard that the Impressionist painters were well aware of the color changes that occur in a landscape at dawn and twilight.

On my mother’s side of the family, plants and crops were an integral part of the family’s life, from the Ozarks, to homesteading in Colorado and New Mexico, to small urban gardens in Denver, Colorado. My Grandfather Homer and Grandmother Connie were born and married in the Ozarks, where they farmed (see marriage photo).

However, life in the Ozarks was tough and eventually they threw everything on a flatbed railroad car headed west to homestead on a farm in Yuma, Colorado.  Then they moved to Clayton, New Mexico, where they lived in a soddy or dugout (see photo below).  The family returned to Colorado in the mid-1920’s before the Clayton area was struck by the 1930’s dustbowl.

My grandparents took plants and gardening with them wherever they lived, even in urban Denver, where they retired. It was a comfort in an alien setting. Grandpa Homer transformed the back yard of their home into a huge garden. He had picked up the art of crop rotation and composting and applied it to his small garden.  Homer grew the best tasting tomatoes in the neighborhood, beautiful radishes, and a whole variety of squash included pickle squash. Homer had many “girlfriends” up and down the block because he would take surplus vegetables and hand them out to the women of the house.

I think that my mother Maree also found comfort in small gardening. Although my father Carl was a city boy from St. Louis, he soon learned how to plant gardens and raise chickens. We had chickens when I was a baby, and some of my clothes were made of chicken seed sacks. We had a huge garden outside of Chicago in a suburb called La Grange Park. It occupied the whole vacant lot next door. This is where I remember picking beans, peas, strawberries and the best tomatoes. We later had smaller gardens bordering our lawns in Wheat Ridge, Colorado (the school mascot in Wheat Ridge was the farmer).

I soon forgot about plants when I went to college at Cornell in upper-state New York and graduated in archaeology/anthropology. However, in graduate school at Columbia University in NYC, I began working with the department’s archeologist, and I studied the plant remains that he had brought back from a mountain cave site in Colombia, South America. This was an extremely early site, where corn was still being domesticated. The preserved cobs were not much bigger than the flowering seeds on stalks of grass. Also in the site were remains of squash that originated down in the lowlands in the Amazon basin. This squash indicated that there was communication and trade between the people in the highlands and lowlands.

Here my love of plants began – not plants for plants’ sake, but plants as key elements in human history and culture.

Skip forward to the highland meadows of Arroyo Seco, just north of Taos, New Mexico. Here came my next introduction to the importance of native plants, from the most unlikely source — a Japanese exchange student. For one of our innumerable neighborhood potluck dinners, our Japanese guest offered to make a stir-fry dish. As we tasted her delightful concoction, we asked where she had purchased such unique vegetables. “In the field,” she said. For us, the fields were full of weeds and grass, nothing more. She had made a meal of them.

Years later, I moved to Denver. Here I noticed that the local Vietnamese community would flock to roadsides and our local parks — again to collect the succulent greens that the average gardener would cut or poison.

In Taos and Denver, I had begun doing fiber art — woven, crocheted, patchwork, and stitched pieces of 3-dimentional pieces of art. The “in” thing at the time was to dye your own wool or yarn. Most of the dyes were chemical, purchased from afar; some were highly toxic. So instead I started to see if I could replicate what the indigenous had done in many parts of the world – dye with local plants. I would go into the vacant lots near my house in Lakewood, Colorado (not far from the infamous Columbine High School) and experiment with weeds – the colors were wonderfully rich in greens, yellows, and browns.

Today I look at the importance of plants in human history — the intersection of plants and people.  Instead of saying, “we must preserve and save our natural environment, for the sake of nature,” I instead say “saving our plant environment will help save ourselves.”

My husband and I have a small log house on the northwest side of Lake Okeechobee, where I am growing whatever will grow – usually the native plants win out. Here is a great photo of me in my garden.

  But here is a better one if you have never met me. I am making some Hot Green Papaya Salsa, from papayas that I rescued after one of the many hurricanes that touched our other home in Miami in the last several years.

 Carol Hoffman-Guzman

NOTE: We would love to read YOUR plant story and welcome your comments as well as images. Please post in the comments section and if you have an image to share, either post a link to it or send it to commonroots@plant-spirits.com 

You will be notified when the post is approved.

 

Cortese Design Bags at New York Fashion Week event

“White Orchids Swaying Ferns” (shown above), “Blue Tango” and “Fuschia” Tote Bags by Cortese Designs are partying in New York at the Inc Lounge in the Time Hotel on West 49th Street. They’re part of the “Untapped Fashion & Music – NYC 09” event which happens tonight between 8 to 11 pm.
After that, they are off to a NY after-party at Greenhouse. (Lucky bags!)
I’m physically here in Miami, but my inner designer is definitely right there in New York via the three tote bags that bear my name. For this event, editors from local & national press (hopefully all of the following): OceanDriveTime Out New YorkMiami HeraldPeople MagazineUS WeeklyW Magazine, VOGUEGlamourLucky MagazineNew York PostVillage VoiceWWD) get to view collections from many designers, while listening to music from unsigned & talented musicians. The fashion designers’ creations will be showcased on models strutting around the lounge. The event is sponsored by Eric and Luck, Sagatiba, and Starlite Shoes & Accessories. Celebrity guests will be in attendance including Isaac Mizrahi, Real Housewives of New York and New Jersey, MTV’s Real World contestants, America’s Next Top Model contestants, Malan Breton of Project Runway, Kristen Dalton – Miss USA.
Designers showcased will include: Aqua Vi, Gia Fragalli, Chak Chel, Debra Cortese, Peony by Sheerly Novian, and many others.
Once again, Jordana Engholm of Jordana PR has gone above and beyond the usual to create this innovative, intimate club event to promote the work of emerging fashion designers and musicians.

Woodstock Festival: 40 Years Ago…

     

 

    

    

Woodstock 40th Anniversary Purple Peace Sign, Dalmatian, and Dove

Woodstock 40th Anniversary Purple Peace Sign, Dalmatian, and Dove

 

Were you there at the original Woodstock Festival in August of 1969? Can you believe it’s been FORTY years? Seems like just a few years ago and, a few lifetimes ago as well.

I lived in Narrowsburg, a small town only about 20 minutes from Bethel, New York which is where the Woodstock Festival actually happened. I think the organizers realized that the topography and size of the village of Woodstock, NY couldn’t handle even 50 thousand people and consequently,Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel (now the home of the Museum at Bethel Woods)was chosen but the name stayed ‘Woodstock’. I clearly remember my father standing in the living room and saying in his usual stern, don’t-even-think-about-questioning-me, tone, “I’d better not catch you even thinking of going anywhere near that place!” and as soon as he was out of sight, I was on my way there with several friends. It was after the rains, and even though most of the traffic jams were subdued, we had to walk for what seemed like hours just to get to the main site. And what a sight it was! A sea of mud-covered people, dancing, sleeping, playing, mostly stoned, mostly happy, sharing food, drinks and of course there was a haze of pot smoke to mellow everyone out, smoking or not.

It was not the most pleasant place to be… toilet facilities were almost non-existent, so basic human functions and the ‘organic’ nature of the entire event led to a not-so-charming guy releaving himself right on the back of my boyfriend’s pants! Grossed me out, but I was only 16 and this was just the beginning of a crazy new world. This was Sunday afternoon, think I heard Joe Cocker, several others, but it’s pretty much a blur between what I actually heard and saw and what I remember from seeing the movie. (Time to see it again too!) I think it was more real for me because with a few months in between, I could comprehend more of what had actually taken place. It was an entire city where before there was only farmland. It happened within the course of one week… a small upstate New York town was overtaken, all stores for miles around sold out of food supplies, basic necessities and ice. I vaguely remember people selling water and ice for outrageous prices. No one was prepared to feed the almost half a million people that swarmed over the beautiful rolling farm lands. It was and is still amazing that for several days MUSIC, people and their basic needs were the focus of this muddy, magical city. Peacefulness and sharing prevailed and it worked on many levels. I also remember going there a week or two after the event, and acres and acres of those beautiful hills were a mess. People were still there, many helping with the cleanup, many just staying because it had been such an incredible experience and they didn’t want it to end.

 

Wavy Gravy of the Hog Farm, Woodstock preservation org photo
Wavy Gravy of the Hog Farm,
Woodstock preservation org photo

“What we have in mind is
breakfast in bed for 400,000”

NOTE: photo removed? link to image may still work.

 

A few weeks after the festival, I heard that people from the hog farm had started a commune just across the river from Narrowsburg (named because of the location on the narrows of the Delaware River). And a few days after that, my sister and I were invited to visit the farm. Another new experience, an old farmhouse full of very colorful hippies, with many VW’s, paisley painted buses, and cars around the yard, dogs and kids everywhere, open doors, all sorts of people coming and going, all friendly and many hanging around looking very high. Someone offered us a glass of koolaid and I remember how quickly my protective, big sister genes kicked in. I’d heard about that stuff, electric koolaid spiked with hallucinogenic LSD or some other mysterious stuff. No thank you. We were young and we knew better, then got older and didn’t know much at all! The commune was the talk of the town for many months. Small towns, I was to learn, often have restrictive, concentric attitudes. People are comfortable within their own spaces and are quickly threatened, and fearful of change. Things did change and quickly. I left my small town the next year, and soon after headed south to Coconut Grove where we would hang out in a place called Peacock Park. Hari Krishnas chanted while handing out organic foods, bought a beautiful little white shepard puppy from some kids there, stayed about 6 months and it took me over 30 years to find my way back. Grove is different now, but still has something magical, like the village of Woodstock (lived there for a few years), and the original festival. For me, the magic is the arts connection, if you pay attention to how you feel, the creativity energy is flowing everywhere, in the streets, along the shore, in shops and restaurants, in the music, art, poetry, theatre. It’s a small town, but certainly not limited or restrictive, always active, creative. The times are always changing and that makes me happy and hopeful.

Woodstock 40 Years Commemorative Design with Purple Peace Sign, Dalmatian, Dove and Peace (marijuana) Branch

Woodstock 40 Years Commemorative Design with Purple Peace Sign, Dalmatian, Dove and Peace (marijuana) Branch

Visit the Woodstock Anniversary page at my CafePress Shop for Woodstock 40th Anniversary 1969 – 2009 Commemorative Designs – the Purple Peace Sign with Dalmatian, Dove and Peace Branch and the Peace Sign with a Red/Green Caladium nature’s energy reflection design, both available on over 2 dozen products. Prices start at less than $5.

Art Licensing information

I’ve been learning with artist, Tara Reed and she has partnered with Paul Brent. Today, I’m working on updating and improving my art for licensing web pages and listening to Tara’s interview with Paul Brent.

It’s a free online audio file and every time I listen, I get another piece of information that is moving me forward. I’ll be contacting a very special referral next week and my web pages must be in tip top shape for this! SAMPLE FLOWERS AND TREES ART PAGE HERE

Listen & Learn to license your art at AskPaulBrent.com

Learn more about coaching with artist, Paul Brent

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