Wolves and watermelons

| 06 Jul 2017 | 11:28

“When I’m choosing artists, I think of myself as a matchmaker,” said Ken Greene, founder and creative director of the Hudson Valley Seed Company. The company started out as a library to share and save seeds, especially those native to our region, and rapidly became the source for heirloom and open-pollinated garden seeds. The seed packets, featuring specially commissioned, local artwork, have become as valued by gardeners as the seeds.

“As I’m looking through artist submissions” – there were over 400 in 2017 – “I’m waiting for that moment when I think Yes! This artist needs to meet this plant,” said Greene. “I think they’ll get along.”

That was just how he felt about Caitlin Parker and the exotic new addition to their seed catalog, the sweet Siberian watermelon. He knew the minute he saw Parker’s wolf subjects, printed using parts of actual plants, that she was the one.

Not sure what wolves and watermelons have in common?

Let’s back up. While this watermelon’s name alludes to Siberia, it actually came to the Hudson Valley Seed Library via New Hampshire. “Both regions have distinct wolf communities, so I wanted a wolf to help tell the story of the seed,” said Greene.

Wolves, as it turned out, had captivated Parker since she was a child. At her home and studio in Saugerties, NY, Parker pulls out striking images of a woman draped in a wolf headdress and pelt. “These are made from shellac ink and plants from my garden and neighbors’ garden,” she explains.

One of her pieces, a patchwork made with washes of natural dyes on cotton and linen fabric, tells the story — drawn with ink using an old batik tool — of five-year-old Caitlin, faced with the death of her dog. She asked her parents to bury the dog, which was part wolf, with its head above ground so she could continue to pet it.

Parker is an accomplished artist, whose body of work includes photographs and video of the abandoned city of Pripyat, at the heart of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Still, getting the nod from Greene was a big deal for her. “I was thrilled because I’m a huge fan of everything they do, from non-GMO seed preservation, heirloom varieties, and great garden advice, to artwork and nature coming together,” she wrote on her blog. “They’re a huge inspiration, so I was excited and nervous!”

For the seed packet design, “I started with a friendly wolf/Siberian husky who loves watermelon,” she said. Her own dog, an Icelandic sheepdog, likes to eat watermelon rinds, so it wasn’t much of a stretch. She laid out the plants she had foraged, playing with how best to use their different shapes to describe the husky. Finally, she painted the apricot colored flesh of the watermelon, split open and just begging to be eaten: a little bit of Siberia (or maybe New Hampshire) right here in the Hudson Valley.