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Susan Brown in The Atlantic

Susan Brown (left) with artist Jessica Rath

Susan Brown (left) with artist Jessica Rath

The Atlantic explores Associate chair Susan Brown‘s role in apple-inspired works of artist Jessica Rath. (See Our Comprehensive Living Archive of Apples 2013-02-27.)

Inspired by Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, Rath visited the Apple Collection at the USDA’s Plant Genetic Resources Unit and the Cornell apple-breeding program in 2009 and 2011,  leading to a new body of work currently on display at the Pasadena Museum of California Art titled take me to the apple breeder.

Of her first trip to Geneva, Rath says:

I got a call from this woman, Susan Brown. I don’t even know how she got hold of me, but thank god she did. She said, “You need to come over here, because I’ve got these trees and you need to see them.” It turns out she’s one of only three commercial apple breeders in the United States, and her job is to cross apple varieties to improve them and create the next Jonagold. …

I don’t know why I said yes. I was just very lucky. She picked me up in her truck and she showed me a row of cloned trees. It was October, so all of the leaves were still on the trees, and she hadn’t pruned them, because she wants to see what the architecture will do if it’s not touched. It was just this big row of green, and I couldn’t really see anything.

So then she took me to another row of trees that were just saplings. They had some leaves, but not many, because they were so young. Every single one of them had a different architecture–some of them were weeping, some were standing upright, some of them had branches like corkscrew or at perfect right angles. It was like a carnival. They were just different bodies, different leaves, and different sheens to the leaf. She said, “This is what happens when you cross.” Then I got it.

She took me back to her office and showed me a big binder–she had been photographing her trees for years. She understood her trees as artwork, and she wanted somebody else to have a conversation with about that.

When she returned in 2011, Rath spent three days photographing that architecture with the help of a 20′ x 30′ muslin backdrop.

Read the whole story and view images of the results at The Atlantic.


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