Two well-worn hands tenderly cradle a potato. A tractor is portrayed as angles, colors, and abstraction. Pea pods become sculpture.
The subject is food, and artists from around the Pacific Northwest have been playing with it. The result is Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences’ 23rd Annual Art About Agriculture exhibit.
The exhibit, “Art About Agriculture Tour 2005: On the Subject of Food,” opened at the Giustina Art Gallery in OSU’s LaSells Stewart Center this spring and will travel to the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum in June and to the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center in Portland July and August.
“We want to help develop an appreciation, especially among people not traditionally acquainted with agriculture,” says Shelley Curtis, curator and manager of the exhibit. “And we thought it would be fun to focus on food this year; the theme is usually the broader topics of agriculture and natural resources.”
“Of course, agriculture is not about food only,” says Thayne Dutson, dean of the College of Agricultural Science. “It is about the stewardship of the land, and the protection of the environment. Agriculture has to do with the people, families in communities, their pleasures and heartaches and hard work. It is also about beauty, and all of the other contributions of Oregon’s huge export industry: horticultural crops.
“If you wake up on a spring morning and see the dew, or a newborn calf, you have a feeling but may not be able to communicate it in words. Art is a powerful way to express all that is involved,” says Dutson.
Artists responded in diverse ways to this year’s competition, expressing ideas about what we eat as well as the origins and pathways of goods to our markets. From a denim work jacket used as a canvas, to aerial photos of cultivated fields, the pieces present feasts, culinary arts, cultural heritages and influences, gardening, growing and cultivation, science and economics.
“I have a small garden in a postage-stamp-size lot by the edge of campus, and I like living in an area where agriculture is a major part of our environment,” says Carolyn Madsen of Corvallis, whose piece, “Fruit of My Labor” is among the exhibit’s award-winners. “These works of art remind me of all the people who work so hard in the fields, and we don’t get to see them, and we don’t get to thank them.”
Many art pieces purchased over the years in partnership with the OSU Foundation and the E.R. Jackman Board of Directors make up the Art About Agriculture Permanent Collection. The complete permanent collection will be exhibited in Portland at the Oregon Historical Society in spring 2006.
To learn more about Art About Agriculture exhibits: