Arts and Entertainment

The power of a seed: Healing the world, one plant at a time

Beverly Naidus has put her art to work at VALISE, where seed starts have taken over the small gallery. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
Beverly Naidus has put her art to work at VALISE, where seed starts have taken over the small gallery.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

Vashon artist Beverly Naidus remembers watching her parents kneel in the dirt as they tended their garden, converting their front yard into a vegetable patch long after the Victory Gardens of World War II had grown passé.

“They weren’t religious people, but every time they bent down to plant a seed, I thought they were praying,” she recalled.

Now, Naidus, an artist known for her politically progressive and interactive installations, is taking her parents’ faith in the power of a seed and converting it into a community project that she hopes will underscore not only the ecological importance of gardening but also its spiritual and life-affirming qualities.

With $38,000 in support from the University of Washington, Naidus has launched “Reframing Eden,” a community-based, eco-art project that will work to heal damaged soils on Vashon, demonstrate innovative gardening techniques and put forward Islanders’ rich and varied stories about the power of gardening.

“It takes enormous faith to believe a seed will yield something that will eventually appear on your table,” she said last week as she sat in VALISE, a collective gallery she belongs to.

Yet that faith is particularly important now, she said, when climate change and ecological ruin are leading some to despair.

“At a time when many people see things collapsing around them, ... it’s really important to remember you can plant a seed and the sun will come out and it will grow,” she said. “Plants and mushrooms can heal so much of that damage that’s been done.”

Naidus, who is currently on sabbatical from the University of Washington Tacoma where she has taught art for social change since 2003, is used to working in an art studio. Her new project will lead her outdoors, where she’ll work with others to undertake soil remediation and create what she calls a permaculture-designed “food forest.”

There will also be a sculptural component: She’ll install “story hives,” three-dimensional archives of stories that Islanders have offered up to her, describing, she said, “what motivates them to grow things at a time of ecological collapse.” The stories will be woven into the hives, decorated to look like honeycombs.

Throughout January, she’s been in residence at VALISE, collecting stories — or gathering pollen, as she puts it — from those who walk through the door. The foot-traffic has not been as heavy as she had hoped, she acknowledges. At the same time, she’s heard some remarkable stories from people, including one woman who told her that if she hadn’t started gardening, she’d be institutionalized today, and another who sees plants as sources of unconditional love.

“People have told me about loving the cycles of plants, that gardening made them feel connected with something larger than themselves.”

It’s been deeply moving, she said. “I tear up often.”

Still up in the air is where her installation will take place. She recently met with a commissioner from the Vashon Park District and now hopes she’ll be able to install her project at the agency’s Burton Adventure Recreation Center (BARC), where the Burton Elementary School used to sit.

“It would be a perfect spot,” she said.

— Beverly Naidus will collect gardening stories at VALISE Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Her request to install her project at BARC will go before the Vashon Park District’s commissioners at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 8.

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