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Maize husk for art paper and cheroot wrapping

Maize, along with rice and wheat, and to a lesser degree barley, provides most of the cereal or corn harvest for the world’s civilisations. Maize was domesticated in the Americas and did not arrive here until recent centuries, when ships and navigation were advanced enough to sail across an ocean.

Maize is a warm-climate crop [1] but consists of many varieties, some of which can be grown here in summer, where it’s product is known as corn-on-the-cob or sweet corn. It is also grown  in stock farming as an animal feed, but mainly in the south of the UK.

Yet maize has many other uses. Here we look at two of them, both starting with the husk surrounding and protecting the cob – Jean Duncan’s exploration of paper-making using husks from maize grown in the Living Field garden, and the traditional use of maize husk as wrapping for Burmese cheroots.

Print of maize root on maize husk paper

For making plant paper, Jean tried various parts of the maize plants including the leaves, the thick stems and also the papery coverings of the flowering and fruiting head, known as the husk, which she said made the best paper [2].

The images above are of a print on maize husk paper of an etching of a maize root cut in cross section and magnified so that the internal structure can be seen.

In the print on the left hand side of the images, the original root cross section is about 1 mm wide, the image itself is 22 by 22 cm and the paper 40 by 49 cm. To the right are close-ups of part of the print and of the paper, showing the visible fibres from the original husks, now converted into paper.

The paper in this case became a visible part of the finished art. Sources below give links to Jean’s description of making the paper and an exhibition in which images of roots were printed on various plant-based papers [2].

Burmese cheroot wrapping

Once it was brought across from the Americas, maize travelled quickly in the 1600 and 1700s and became a favoured cereal through Africa and among the warmer parts of Europe. It established also in Asia, but usually as a secondary crop behind rice.

Its parts were used not only for food for humans and animals. There is a history of usage as a medicinal, as a substate for alcohol (e.g. chibuku in Africa) and curiously, as a wrapping for cheroots.

The long cigar shaped structures smoked in Burma (now Myanmar) and known as cheroots are usually filled with a range of herby and woody plant material, not always including tobacco. The wrapping can come from a range of plants, but the cigars below were wrapped in maize cob husks [3].

Several husk-leaves were used to wrap each cheroot. The contents were, as said above, derived from a range of plant material, most pieces being 2-4 mm long. Each cheroot had a filter, consisting of tight rolls of leaf or husk. They were on sale locally along the Irrawaddy River in Burma, now Myanmar [4].

In his compendium of useful plants, Burkhill [3] notes that an industry arose in north Burma at some time in the last few hundred years, based on the use of a type of maize, characterised by a waxy endosperm (the store in the seed), which also had a ‘peculiar suitability of the sheath for cheroots.’ He also refers to the possibility that certain impoverished areas were afflicted by the vitamin deficiency pellagra through reliance on maize, as in parts of the USA [5].

Male and female flower heads

Maize is unusual among the cereal or corn plants in having separate male and female flower heads, each on compact ‘branches’ held on different parts of the same plant. The male flowers are usually held at the top of the plant and the female lower down. Female branches are shown in the images below, taken in the Living Field garden.

The female flowering head remains mostly hidden within a sheath of leafy material (above left) that later forms the husk. The grain sites are arranged around the central ‘stem’ hidden by the sheath. The stem and grains together will later form what we know as the corn cob.

Each grain site puts out a long thread, many of which together emerge from the sheath in an irregular bunch, often named a silk, the female part of the reproductive process in this species (seen reddish, above left and top right).

The function of each female thread (comprising a stigma and style)  is to receive pollen from male flowers and to provide a channel for the pollen tube, that emerges from a pollen grain, to grow into the sheath to a grain site. When pollinated, the grain sites fill to give the familiar, yellow kernel which remains protected by the sheath.

Sometimes the season in the Garden is too short for late flowering maize heads and they do not grow into a finished, filled cob. One of these late heads was prized apart to show an undeveloped cob (lower right in the images above) and the surrounding sheath that had turned to parchment in feel and colour.  The female threads, now fibrous and dead, can just about be seen issuing from each grain site.

The paper shown in the images at the top of the page was made from husks like these.

Finally, here is an image of maize intercropped with groundnut growing by the Irrawaddy river [4]. The male branches can be seen at the top of some of the plants. Female flowering heads are circled.

Sources, references, links

[1] The botanical name for maize is Zea mays. The genus Zea is of the grass family and has only this species. It was domesticated and developed many thousands of years ago in Central and South America. It was first brought across the Atlantic Ocean in the late 1400s, then spread rapidly east.

[2] The article Maize paper by Jean Duncan describes how to make paper from plants in the garden. The exhibition The Beauty of Roots shows prints and etchings made on maize and other plant papers displayed at the University of Dundee in 2017.

[3] Details of the spread and growing of maize in Asia are given in the major compendium of useful south-east Asian plants by Burkill, published in 1966, but  clearly the result of many decades of investigation and cataloguing. He lists the use of maize husks for cheroot wrappings and of maize leaf and stem for paper.

Burkill IH. 1966. Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsular. Two volumes, 2444 pages. Published on behalf of the Governments of Malaysia and Singapore by the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The entry on maize is in Vol II at pages 2327-2334.

The writer refers to the following article for confirmation of the use of ‘waxy’ maize varieties as cheroot wrapping in Burma: Collins GN.1920. Waxy maize from upper Burma. Science 52, 48-51. doi 10.1126/science.52.1333.48.

[4] The cheroots shown in the images were bought at a village store in 2014 on the banks of the Irrawaddy. Further description of the region is given at  Mixed cropping in Burma on the curvedflatlands web site in an article by G R Squire.  Disclaimer – no cheroots were smoked in the research for this article!

[5] The Living Field we site has the following articles on maize and pellagra: Cornbread, peas and black molasses and Peanuts to pellagra.

Contact/author: geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

Sectioned II

Our artist friend, Jean Duncan has been trying out new techniques, getting inspiration and materials from the Living Field garden and from microscopic sections of roots. Jean writes about her depictions of brassica roots:

“The print is an etching made on a zinc plate by drawing with a needle into soft wax and then etching the lines in copper sulphate. Ink is rubbed in to the etched lines and then printed on wet paper.

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“My idea is to print root sections and plant drawings on to plant papers. I want to combine ancient techniques of papermaking with the latest microscopic images in a way that will highlight the plant’s diversity and engage people in how plants can enrich soils as well as provide food.

“For papermaking, the most successful fibres so far have come from maize stalks from the Living Field garden. These are chopped and simmered for several hours in soda ash to break down the fibres. The long fibres are then bashed further in a Hollander beater like a large grinder. Sheets of paper are then formed on a mould and stacked for printing or casting. Wet paper sheets can be pushed into plaster moulds of the plants and roots and when they dry the plant is embossed into the paper.

“So it’s a long process but I am currently working on a latex cast of a plant root and it’s been successful so far. It may even be useful to scientists as a way of preserving the fragile roots in a way that means they can be handled without being damaged.

Sources/contacts

Jean Duncan on this web site (with links): art/jean-duncan

The original microscopic cross section of a root was provided by Robert Baker of the Department of Botany, University of Wyoming http://www.robertlbaker.org and http://www.macromicroscopic.com

Here it is.

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And thank you for allowing us to use it on this site.

[More to follow from Jean’s experimenting ….]

 

Macoto Murayama and T rep

T rep. The short form given by our field survey teams to white clover Trifolium repens. Still a common plant of pasture and waysides, so common that the intricacies of its structure and lf_noim_macoto1_gki1_350function generally go unnoticed.

Yet the mathematical artworks by Macoto Murayama shown in July at Dundee University reveal these intricacies in astonishing detail (image right).

The exhibition was held by courtesy of Frantic Gallery, Tokyo.

The Living Field’s correspondent gk-images sent some cellphone snaps from the exhibition. 

The introduction gives some detail of the artist and how he transfers the complex flowering heads and flowers of his botanical subjects to two-dimentional images.

“Macoto Murayama is a Japanese artist who cultivates ‘inorganic flora’. His extraordinary images are created after minutely dissecting real flowers and studying [them] under a microscope. His lf_noim_mctmryt_gki3_350drawings are then modelled in 3D imaging software then rendered into 2D compositions on photoshop before being printed on a large scale.”

Born in Kanagawa, Japan in 1984 he is now a researcher at Institute of Advanced Media and Art and Sciences, Tokyo.

The photographs, with reflections of lights and the opposite wall are of white clover (top) and spanish broom (lower).

Sources, links

Dundee University – Macoto Murayama: Growth and Form Exhibition. 14 May to 20 August 2016. Lamb Gallery, Tower Building, Dundee. Click the link for opening times.

Macoto Murayama at Frantic gallery: http://frantic.jp/en/artist/artist-murayama.html

Frantic Gallery Tokyo. Looks like some great exhibitions, for example the Universe and other Oddities by Zen Tainaka.

On Growth and form, a classic treatise by D’Arcy Thompson.  Web site http://www.darcythompson.org/about.html

Images Thanks to gk-images for the photographs shown here.

Ps Back to T. rep. There would be, in the 1940s, five or six legumes growing as ‘weeds’ in cornfields but they have since been ousted by nitrogen fertiliser and chemical herbicide. Trifolium repens is one of the the last remaining of these nitrogen fixers still found, but then rarely, in arable fields.

 

Among tree ferns and mountain ash – the William Ricketts Sanctuary

William Ricketts began in 1934 to create his Sanctuary in a hilly region of the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, Australia. He fused  fired-clay images, mainly of Aboriginal people, with the lie of slope and rock on a hillside vegetated with trees and tree-ferns.  He believed that people could live together and with nature, and that destruction and exploitation were not inevitable.

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The images are now shaded by layers of vegetation. The upper canopy is mostly the leaf and branch of australian mountain ash,  Eucalyptus regnans,  tall and straight, said to be the tallest of the Angiosperms (non-conifers), and so very different from our own mountain ash or rowan.  Below them are a few medium sized trees and then the tree ferns, luxuriant above the paths and sculptures. (A part of a tree fern is included in each of the sets of images on this page.)

At the base are herbs, ferns and mosses, growing close to and in some instances on the sculptures. This proximity gives the site an organic feel, the images becoming part of the scene, aided by the artist taking casts of the rocks so that he could match the base of the clay precisely with its intended location.

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The clay images come alive in their setting. Many are part covered in a green algal film that must change with the seasons. Water droplets lie on them. Rivulets of water flow over them. Insects and fallen leaves rest on them and they change as the gums and tree ferns filter the light. There are  touches of William Blake in the way figures swirl and flow into each other.

Ricketts was born in 1898, a little more than a century after the main phase of European colonisation began. He spent many years living with Aboriginal Australians, learning their approach to life and how they managed vegetation and land. He also created works for natural locations farther north, in central Australia.

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He died in 1993, aged 94. He lives through the Sanctuary, his various other works and a few writings, but most of all through the memories of people who have seen his works in their intended setting.

The Sanctuary is managed by Parks Victoria. As with all other images on the Living Field site, images of William Ricketts’ works here are displayed ‘not for profit’ (taken October 2015).

Sources

Parks Victoria State Government web page on the William Ricketts Sanctuary (with access to a downloadable PDF guide)

Brady P. 1995. Whitefella Dreaming: the authorised biography of William Ricketts. Published by Preferred Image.

The Wikipedia entry gives further references.

Tree fern overhead at the William Ricketts Sanctuary (Squire)
Tree fern overhead at the William Ricketts Sanctuary (Squire)

Empire at Wall Projects II Montrose

This fine exhibition, on themes of Empire, is housed at Wall Projects II in the Old Ropeworks off Bents Road in Montrose. The venue itself is a work unique, including an upper room (image below) and the very long and narrow rope works on the ground floor, disused and part derelict and now open in places to sun and rain.

Upper exhibition room, Wall projects (Living Field)
Dark in parts, this exhibition: it makes you think of how ordinary people become complicit in dire trades and livings, in buying and selling people, in slavery on a massive, organised scale.

Here’s the earner: sail to european ports with some good local Scottish produce like salmon, textiles and things to smoke; offload the cargo – but an empty ship costs money – so off down to Africa to fill up with slaves; take them to the Americas, leave them there to be sold and worked; then bring back tobacco. Scottish enterprise! So tells the audio exhibit Considered Cargo by Carolyn Scott.lf_noim_wllprjcts_ks_550bdr

The dehumanising of peoples considered little more than zoological specimens continues in the utterly mesmerising four-minute video Shadow Show by Kyra Clegg (an image captured above by K Squire).

Other artists tell of the whale trade, the driving to near extinction of these great, warm blooded, social mammals; the realisation that they individually suffer. Linen, whale oil, jute, slaughter, wealth  inextricably linked.

It’s not all dark – there is lightness and humour among the twenty artists exhibiting here, but threads recur of claim and exploitation.

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Take the insidious link between beverage and narcotic, tea and opium, Camellia sinensis and Papaver somniferum, a leaf-stimulent drunk by most people in Britain and the poppy-head-latex source of the heroin trade. Those Europeans who like tea, should perhaps know its origins. But no blame to the tea plant, and no blame to the poppy for it also gave us one of the best painkillers.

At the farthest end of the rope works is an impenetrable mass of ivy roots, hanging down, and from them (or to them if you look the other way) stretches the orange to yellow to grey to black complex curve of coloured, filled balloons in Meltwater by Juliana Capes. It’s the seasons played out.

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Meltwater exhibit at the rope works, Montrose (K Squire)

We spent some hours at Empire. Sorry not to mention all the artists exhibiting, but go and see for yourselves. One of the very best.

Exhibition

Empire by the Society of Scottish Artists, at Wall Projects II, 13 Bents Road, Montrose, Angus DD10 8QA. Various dates to 29 August 2015. Check the web site : www.wallprojectsltd.com or email kimcanale@wallprojectsltd.com

Society of Scottish Artists web page on Empire has many  photographs of the exhibits and notes about the artists: http://www.s-s-a.org/empire-at-wall-projects/