Corn and the Connecticut River: A Paper Odyssey/Installation by Sheryl Jaffe
@ The Corn Barn at Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum
August 7 – Oct 15
Opening Reception: August 7, 3:00-5:00 PM

The prevalent medium in this installation, Corn, or Maize, is universally translated in most Native American languages as “That Which Sustains Us”, by which we may assume that corn may also act as metaphor, yet more than metaphor, as it has, and does, sustain legions of people and cultures in myriad ways.

Sheryl Jaffe art installation reception postcard

As an artist working in paper, I find myself intrigued and motivated by this seemingly ubiquitous plant which grows to the height of a person, exhibits a peculiar beauty at each and every stage of growth and decay, and can be prepared as sustenance in unique and various ways. Its very fibers appear to simultaneously absorb and reflect light in ways both unique and astonishing, by way of its individual parts, which span from the filmy and translucent to the shiny and curved, all while displaying a grid-like geometry, as dependent upon perspective. While sunlight works its magic sustaining the plant during its period of growth, its positioning will affect the resulting paper, once brilliant, now sinister, as it undergoes the inevitability of its lifespan, a slow dance with aging and, inevitably, death.

Sheryl Jaffe art installation reception postcard

Five years ago, upon being made a generous offering of corn from my neighbors’ garden, I found myself preferring the husks, returning as if called, to reflect upon the leaves, and ultimately asking for the stalks, for all that they promised to me by way of their potential, then cooking, cutting, and beating all these fibers into pulp for paper — paper for sculpture, clothing, envelopes, and artwork.

Upon stepping outside on a cloying, damp, humid day two years past whilst creating linen and mulberry papers, my vision immediately changed, became abstract, and my glasses fogged up in a flash. In this moist blur, I had a sense of the birds as fish, of my self and my environment as being under water, and of the air as a dense and thick being. Reminiscent of standing on a hill in Northampton and imagining Lake Hitchcock, or standing in the Corn Barn at Porter Phelps facing the river and envisioning the seasonal flooding of the fields, picturing the fish, and then the story, the story of this creation, this installation.

During the planning stages of this installation, Susan Lisk, director of the Porter Phelps Huntington Foundation shared with me a story of the Connecticut River flooding the cornfield in the early spring, such that there were dozens of carp somewhat trapped after the waters receded. She, accompanied by others, trekked down to where they lay imprisoned in an attempt to collect them in corn baskets to then drag or carry them back to the river so they could swim away, freed from their constraints, describing an image I found at once breathtaking and inspiring, for the work I had begun. For the relationship between corn and the Connecticut River is at once personal, historical, intense, and fascinating, dating back thousands of years. It then occurred to me that if one perceives time as an accordion, folding up on itself, creating threads of contact having more to do with sensory experience, one may well be reminded of other such sensory memories such as listening to a drum or a flute, planting corn kernels or seeds, tasting a cooked ear, smelling catfish frying, or grilling salmon, and thus my vision for this piece took on a more perceptible shape.

It is a long-held Mayan belief that people are made of and from corn. Today there are those whom consider themselves “people of corn” across North, Central and South America, because cultural beliefs color both group and individual perception. An individual’s broader perspective is a critical aspect of comprehension — of one’s self, one’s life, and all that one perceives. As such, the works in this exhibit require more than one point of view to fully appreciate the resulting work. This installation thus invites you to alter your position, perceive that the lighting is altered, take pains to alter it by your physical perspective, allow yourself to make a joyful and perhaps uninhibited sound, return for a fresh viewing on another day, in a different time of day or weather, savoring what you have just read or eaten, and allow yourself to be touched in a unique and personal manner by this work, which was created for such individual experiences of appreciation.

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