SEED STORY IN MOTION
-By Jade Leyva
Many know me as the woman that works with people, art, seeds & glue.... Speaking of seeds is not an easy task. It has somehow become more difficult as people have politicized the subject. This is why I chose to bring attention to them creating seed art with diverse communities.
The truth is, that a lot of what I do today was inspired by my life experiences. I would like to share them with you.
I was born in Mexico City and raised in different parts of Mexico. My story with seeds began when I was a child living on a farm in Northern Mexico. My older sister and I played with little plots of land that my mother “gave” us to sow. We planted watermelons and at harvest we’d have watermelon eating contests, swallowing the black slippery seeds whole. It was so much fun! I never really stopped to think about the natural process of planting a seed and getting hundreds more from that one seed I planted. Thirty years later a deep relationship with seeds was awaiting me.
I grew up in a family of artists and I believe that is why creating art is my profession today. I experimented for many years to find my voice and style. It was only after experimenting for 9 years that, in 2007, I finally arrived and found the voice for which I had been searching. Creating art is fun, but I always had the feeling I had to say something through my art regarding our close relationship to nature. I felt a necessity to make people aware of different things regarding the environment. I have always had an inclination to speak my mind regarding human behavior towards nature, how we pollute it, how we use its resources and give very little back in return, if we ever giving anything back at all. My art has never been aggressive but I have been told that it makes people think and feel a close relationship to the world and everything in it. Unconsciously, I was already on a path to create awareness about the environment through the arts.
In my early twenties, I left my beloved Mexico to come and work in the US. I lived the common life of an immigrant worker, had three jobs and went to school to learn English. I have now been here for 15 years.
A year after arriving, I met a man who was going to become one of my greatest friends and my art mentor. Bill Freeman taught me that everything is possible if you set you mind to it and work hard. You just need to place yourself inside what you love and work at it, then, everything will follow. He was an intensely interesting person, who had a vast love for and knowledge of nature. His scientific knowledge about wild animals, plants and geology was astounding. Taking a hike with him was like going on a biology field trip! He could name every wildflower, plant and tree by their common and scientific names and he also knew their medicinal properties. There would always be a quiz on the way back out from the hike. “Ok Jade”, Bill would ask, “what is that flower and how can you use it?”
After a really bad attempt of planting corn in Bill’s yard, he and I went around his neighborhood in Placitas, NM and respectfully gathered many of the wildflower seeds, those that were dry and ready to be planted. When we returned, we scattered them around the yard and let them be. Next year there were all kinds of native plants growing in his yard without anyone taking care of them at all! Coyote gourds, datura, aster, chamisa and many more. I started getting more and more interested in different native plants. When I would come visit Bill, there would often be a plastic bag with dried seed pods that he collected on his morning walks sitting on the counter, complete with a torn piece of paper inside the bag with the name of the plant scribbled on it so I could identify them. That is how I got started collecting wildflower seeds and I grew a large but humble seed bank which I still have and have been using to re-introduce plants into the landscape around my home in Placitas.
I few years ago, a friend I was teaching art to discovered that I was into collecting wild seeds and she asked me if I was aware of GMOs. I had no clue, but she awakened my curiosity by her brief explanation about them. My eyes widened as I listened. I could not believe what she was saying to me! I started doing research to learn more about the subject. It helped sprout an idea.
It blossomed into the creation of a multimedia art exhibit around the theme of seeds which my husband and I organized. We called it SEEDS: A Collective Voice. It evolved quickly into an international exhibit and took place at Downtown Contemporary Gallery in Albuquerque, NM in May 2013. We had an organic farmer sharing stories, a native story teller, a seed preservationist, local musicians and poets wrote songs and poetry specifically for the exhibit. SeedBroadcast, Mobile Seed Broadcasting Station were there too, recording all that was happening including the live poetry. Over 60 artists from around the Southwest, USA, Europe and Central America presented beautiful pieces of seed-inspired art. The show was incredibly well received by the greater community. It was also a blast! Almost immediately following this meaningful happening, we saw a noticeable ripple effect, with others spreading the message in various ways. It continues to this day and it truly warms my heart.
I continued educating myself about organics and solutions for a healthy community. We began planning another similar exhibit. Friends showed interest and started volunteering. In September of 2013, I was invited to have an educational booth at the world music & culture celebration/festival ¡Globalquerque! which takes place at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. We had a space that I dedicated to teach people about the 3 sisters form of agriculture. I got a hold of organic corn, beans and calabaza (squash) seeds and gave them away so people could experiment with this form of agriculture. We had educators and farmers on hand educating and answering questions from those who wanted to learn more. That is when the Community Seed Mural Project was born and it has kept me very busy for the past two years. I designed a mural celebrating the 3 Sisters for people to glue seeds on it following a predesigned pattern and color scheme. It was a total success! Everyone loved it, from the 2 year old to the 80 year old that placed seeds. There was such a good feeling surrounding the project. Multiple teachers asked me if I could bring this project to their school. I agreed without much thought to the details, like cost, transport, etc. They just seemed like secondary concerns - even though it would be financially challenging.
Right after that event, we almost immediately designed another section of the mural as a continuation of the piece we had recently finished. I talked to the teachers that had previously approached me and I made appointments to bring this piece into their schools. With the help of my husband and step-son, I was able to pull off transporting the very heavy sections. (For our subsequent murals, we have come up with a much lighter material!) Fast forward: we are now working on the 7th large scale seed mural! SEEDS organically grew into several branches, a book and documentary are on the works, I ended up being invited and attending a conference in Chiapas Mexico to speak about the project to a local and international audience. with sister projects completed in México and New Zealand. A documentary and book are currently in the works. For a year and half most material and transportation costs were out-of-pocket. In the Fall of 2014, we submitted a grant proposal to The McCune Charitable Foundation and are proud to say we were awarded a partial sum of the amount requested. It really helps to keep this community favorite project going.
The Community Seed Mural Project, has slowly but steadily grown into an ongoing arts-based educational & awareness program. It has now been invited to several schools in New Mexico, as well as public events and institutions where a variety of diverse communities join together to work on creating murals out of seeds. During our visits to classrooms, students and teachers work on the seed murals while volunteer experts from different fields lead discussions to raise awareness on several important related topics including seed & bee preservation, organics, community nutrition, sustainability and their connection to a healthy environment. We augment this information by offering educational materials that participants can take home with them. The goal is to create awareness on environmental subjects, while completing 10 murals, which will be displayed together as an art installation in partnership with the Education Department at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, NM. We will find homes for the individual murals in public spaces in New Mexico for the community’s enjoyment.
From planting seeds on a farm as a little girl, to creating seed art with thousands of people to raising awareness about the environment of which all living things on Earth are a part, it makes me happy to see where seeds have taken me! We are surprised, honored and humbled by what we have been able to accomplish with the community. We are grateful to those that have believed in the project and are looking forward to see what comes next.
SEEDS: A Collective Voice/Community Seed Mural Project is proudly represented by Non-Profit Educational Arts Organization Avokado Artists and The Community Seed Mural Project is partly funded by the McCune Charitable Foundation.