Layers of Art & Life: Somerset County's "Farm to Frame" Project, Part II

Recently, you might’ve seen several of the new mixed media pieces I’ve developed over the past several months. Exploring textures, layers, and symbols on a small scale has helped me cultivate techniques which are the foundation for my final pieces in Somerset County’s “Farm to Frame” project. While I’ve already started the base layers and textures for four large (30”x30”) pieces, my goal is to have five completed, in order to have options for selecting the final two for submission. They are due to the jurors at the end of January 2023. 

Sample pieces developed to test techniques creating textures and layers with mixed media on paper.

 Left: "Celestial Surfaces No. 2". Right: "PHF Fields No. 1 (Frost)"

Immigrant Farmers

The maternal side of my family were (some still are) immigrant farmers from Croatia, and the family who owns the farm I’m paired with for this project is from China. Since starting this project, I’ve given much thought to how immigrants bring their cultures and histories to establish themselves in a new land. So I decided to use a combination of natural materials and oil paint, to develop a heavily textured base, and then repeatedly build and remove additional layers, in order to reflect the importance of layers in life - in our histories, cultures, and quite literally, the strata of the earth farms depend on in order for crops to thrive. 

Layers and Symbols

Within all of the levels of texture, I’m scratching characters from the Chinese language. They represent the family and farming traditions they have used to establish their place in our community. Some of the symbols are literal and obvious, others more representational and hidden under layers of mixed media. This is done intentionally to reflect aspects of an immigrant's life in a new land - where outward appearances are evident, but the histories and experiences which led them to their adopted home are hidden from view. And while some of their native customs and traditions may eventually become integrated into new homeland experiences and possibly, eventually fade away, they will always be a part of an immigrant’s personal story.

"Heaven" (top), and "Earth" (bottom) are two of the Chinese characters I'm using in the base layers of all the pieces. The hulu gourd, which the farm is named after, is shaped like a figure eight. In the Chinese culture, the hulu symbolizes luck, life, and the unity of heaven and earth.

We may not all be farmers, but we are a nation of immigrants, each with our own layers of history and culture. 

 Stay tuned for the final pieces.

In paint and nature, Karen

Grandpa, Mom and sister Christine outside Uncle Tony's cabin