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.
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Water Garden Bridge at Miami Beach Botanical Garden by Debra Cortese
Just a week to go until we hang the “Common Roots“ art exhibition. I’ve worked on many art exhibits before, wearing a variety of hats – as artist, curator, gallerist, host and event coordinator. This has been one of the most enjoyable, cooperative events to date!
I officially met Carol Hoffman-Guzman, Founding Director of Arts At St Johns early this year during the annual Taste of the Garden event at Miami Beach Botanical Garden where we briefly chatted about art and an appreciation of plants. Carol mentioned a particular ongoing project she was working on called “Plants without Borders” and I said I’d be interested to learn more about this and the programs at Arts At St. Johns. Several conversations later, we discovered many areas of common interest concerning art and plants and then Carol invited me to co-curate what would become this “Common Roots” art exhibition. I was delighted because when it comes to plants – the beauty of flowers, leaves, trees; the use of plants for medicine, clothing, foods, building materials; the mythological stories, characteristics and creatures, cultural connections, recipes, gardening, the ‘energy’ of all of nature and how intrinsically our human lives are affected by our green allies, I am eternally fascinated! Plus, I knew this theme would attract many of Miami’s most talented artists and that we would be curating not only art but an exceptionally vibrant, multi-cultural story of the essence of our South Florida “Common Roots”.
Porterweed photo by Debra Cortese
As the process developed, Arts At St Johns invited artist, Winsome Bolt (Winsome Design) as co-curator and Steve Woodmansee as project scholar. We received over 90 art entries from 36 South Florida artists. Because we were jurying digital images and working on multiple platforms, we had a few software communication program challenges, but with a little help from our friends, we managed to review every artwork that was submitted and then processed them through several rounds of voting.
Lantana photo by Debra Cortese
This is always a critical and sensitive part of the process. First there are the basic qualifications that were presented in the original call: The artwork must depict, refer to, or be constructed from native plants of the South Florida and circum-Carribean regions. Media: painting, photography, graphics, fiber art, sculpture and multi-media art. The artists were required to submit images in specific sizes and file types, along with id information and an entry fee.
Beauty Berries photo by Debra Cortese
In one case, the artist submitted images via email, but no id, contact information nor entry fee. This art was eliminated even though the art itself would have qualified. A few of the artworks did not meet the criteria of native plants, not even representational of plants nor with any accompanying information to substantiate the relevance as abstract representation of native plants. And, there were also space and size limitations that affected the final jury selections. That said, we are excited to present the curators selections of artworks from the following artists for the “Common Roots” exhibition:
Deborah M. Mitchell * Deborah Weed * Dee Clark * Elizabet Chacon * Evelyn Mitchell * Flex Maslan * Irene Sperber * John DeFaro * Linda Apriletti * Marian Wertalka * Marilyn Valiente * Mark Diamond * Mary Catello * Miguel Paredes * Natasha Duwin * Nelson Viera * Patricia Roldan * Patti Black * Paula Turk * Perri Cox * Rosa Gallardo * Rosie Brown * Ruben Martinez Chamizo * Terry Arroyo Mulrooney plus artworks by the curators: Winsome Bolt, Carol Hoffman-Guzman and Debra Cortese
In addition to the art exhibition and evening reception, there will be two morning events with Steve Woodmansee. On Wednesday, October 7th from 10 am to noon, Steve will host a discussion about regional native plants, and on Saturday, October 10th, also from 10 am to noon, he will talk about coastal native plants.
Sweet Almond photo by Debra Cortese
The Exhibit Reception for ‘Common Roots’ is on Tuesday, October 6th from 7 to 9pm. Schnebly Redlands Winery is providing Avocado and Native Fruit Wines to accompany a variety of locally grown vegetable nibblers which will be donated by Claire Tomlin of The Market Company (hosts of the outstanding Green Markets all around South Florida).
The “Common Roots” Exhibit is located at Miami Beach Botanical Garden at 2000 Convention Center Drive on Miami Beach, Fl 33139 and it runs from Monday, October 5 through Saturday, October 10th
Miami Beach Botanical Garden hours are from 9 am to 5 pm.
Admission is FREE to art exhibition and to Miami Beach Botanical Garden.
For more information on Arts At St. Johns and its programs, visit their website:
Arts At St Johns
NATIVE PLANT INFORMATION:
Native Plants for Your Neighborhood
Miami Beach Botanical Garden
Dade Community Foundation
The Market Company
City of Miami Beach Cultural Affairs
Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs
Common Roots Art – Arts At St Johns album of artworks for this exhibit
Common Roots Event Invitation and Exhibition Details
Steve Woodmansee Plants Without Borders
A personal note to the artists:
I would like to thank every artist that submitted work for this project including those whose work was not selected. It is important not to be discouraged and to continue to create new work, refine your style, expand your skills, pay close attention to details of the submission process and if you are not sure about something, don’t be afraid too ask for clarification.
Fairy habitat at Miami Beach Botanical Garden
UPDATE on Common Roots Exhibition:
Congratulations to all participants and thank you for everyone’s help with this event.
Special kudos to artist award winners:
Marilyn Valiente – Jurors Award
John DeFaro – Award by Fellow Artists
Paula Turk – Audience Award
Deborah Weed – Miami Beach Garden One-Peron Show Award