Intrigued by science journalist Michael Pollan’s description of rare, odd apples from the Noah’s Ark of apples in his book Botany of Desire, Jessica visited the Plant Genetics Resource Unit (PGRU) in Geneva, New York, a joint USDA/Cornell University project. The reason for this vast living collection… unknown to most people, edible apples cannot be planted from seed, they must be grafted from existing trees, thus keeping the variety literally “alive” to save it. At the PGRU, buds are collected from apple trees all over the world, then grafted onto dwarf rootstock and matured until fruiting.
Jessica made nine sculptures based examples of varieties from PGRU. While the size and volume are based on the original, high fire glazes were mixed and matched to allude to various hues of yellows, reds, pinks and greens and represent some of the unusual russets and blushes on the apples. The artist returned to Geneva in March 2011 on a Center for Cultural Innovation grant to photograph genetic diversity at the Cornell University-NYS Agricultural Experiment Station. There apple breeder Dr. Susan K. Brown has planted out thousands of seed “sisters” from each of her cross breeding of two apple trees. Over the course of six to seven years, Brown leaves the trees unpruned, to grow wild.
The diversity of tree architecture from one cross is mind-blowing, as well as the clones used for genetic material to breed with. Assisted by professional photographers Ken Marchionno and Mary Wingfield and grip crew from Rochester Institute of Technology, the artist shot these trees against 20 x 30 foot white muslin backdrops to catch the beautiful, leafless silhouettes and the sensuous detail of their skin.
The artist would like to thank Dr. Susan K. Brown, Dr. Philip Forsline and William Srmack of Cornell University; photographers Ken Marchionno and Mary Wingfield; science writer Amanda Garris; John Weldon, Michael Keeler, and Katherine Baghaie of Weldon Color Lab; curators Shirlae Cheng-Lifshin and Kristina Newhouse; and Joe and Emma Ann Fairbrother. Special thanks to the original Kickstarter.com backers, the Center for Cultural Innovation for it generous Investing in Artists grant and ARC grant and Kevin Nguyen, Suzette Munnik, and Junzo Mori of the Xiem Clay Center in Pasadena, CA for providing both their professional expertise and support.