Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Whose Domain? South Central Farm

Ten people are arrested as dozers plow under South L.A.‘s disputed urban garden.


In former days, with seed, at Los Angeles’s urban garden

Photo: Jonathan McIntosh

After years of land-grabbing, bushels of vegetables, community organizing and, most recently, celebrities in the trees, bulldozers are wiping out the 14-acre South Central Farm in Los Angeles. Demolition began yesterday despite heavy protest. By this morning, ten people had been arrested.

“‘What was once a beautiful set of gardens ... will now be a pile of rubble,’ said Dan Stormer, an attorney for the farmers.

This excellent story from L.A. City Beat gives a history of the urban garden, 350 plots worked rent-free by local families since 1992.

So which side are you on? Tomato plants or parking lots? Filling new warehouses or feeding the poor? Actually, it’s not quite so simple.

“The land has been tied up in litigation since the 1980s, when the city used its power of eminent domain to buy it from developer Ralph Horowitz to build a trash incinerator. The incinerator was never built, and after the 1992 riots,” after the beating of Rodney King, “the city loaned the land to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to create a community garden.”

We’ve criticized eminent domain when it threatened to squash a local flower shop. So what about the rights of this landowner, Ralph Horowitz, who’s been demonized by the hipoisie?

“In 1994, the property was sold to the Harbor Department as part of the process of acquiring land for the Alameda Corridor rail project. Horowitz sued over that sale, and the city eventually agreed to sell the 14 acres back to him for $5 million. As support for maintaining the farm grew, Horowitz offered to sell the property for $16 million. But when activists were unable to come up with the money and continued to press him to abandon the property, he changed his mind.”

imageProtesters and bulldozers

South Central Farm

July 5, 2006

Photo: Ric Francis, for AP

A number of activists interviewed by L.A. City Beat make the case that the garden, worth saving as a source of food and flowers, is perhaps more valuable still as a proving ground for emerging leaders from the neighborhood. Some would say the garden has become a university for organic intellectuals of the Mesoamerican community.

Horowitz argues that he’s been paying $30,000 monthly mortgage, plus taxes, on the property since he bought it back from the city in 2003. He also maintains that the farm isn’t actually a “public” facility but dominated by a powerful few. Gardeners were evicted three weeks ago and we understand that a judge will rule next week on possible sale of the land.

For now, private ownership has the upper hand and wields it, in the name of “market forces,” against community and green.


Posted by Julie on 07/06 at 10:20 AM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePoliticsPermalink

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Rainha Isabel’s Roses

In Portugal, July 4 is a holy holiday, the feast of a peace-loving Queen.


St. Elizabeth (Isabel) of Portugal

Francisco de Zurbarán, 1640

Museo del Prado

Photo: ABC Gallery

If you’re feeling a bit lavender, overdosed on red, white and blue today, cross the Atlantic and celebrate with the Portuguese.

Long before 1776, July 4 was celebrated as the Feast of Rainha Santa Isabel who died this day in 1336. A woman who “had it all and turned it all to good,” she is revered across Portugal, notably in Coimbra, where she lies in the Church of St. Clare. They say (and someone checked as recently as 1912) that she “reposes” after seven centuries there, “as beautiful and serene as if she merely slept.”

We celebrate her, too, for her legendary flowers.

imageStatue of St. Isabel

Zaragoza, Spain

Photo: Seminario San Carlos

A Spanish princess, Elizabeth was married at age 12 to King Dinis of Portugal, Portuguizing her name to Isabel. Dinis apparently was a whale of a king but a gerbil of a husband. Among his many reprehensible acts, he frowned on his wife’s charity—a predicament a lot like that of Elizabeth of Hungary, Isabel’s great-aunt.  Their legends run along the same floral lines. As Isabel took bread to the poor, her husband confronted her; she said she was merely carrying flowers and when she opened her cape, roses came tumbling out.

As Hungary’s St. Elizabeth, in the same fix, performed the same miracle, we conclude there’s a supernaturally good connection between bread and roses and saintly women. Heads up, you people on the Adkins Diet!

Not only was Isabel a long-suffering wife and charitable queen, she appears to have been a brilliant architect, designing a number of buildings across Portugal and overseeing their construction. Here we find another of her flower legends.

“The queen had a dream one night in which God asked her to build a church dedicated to the Holy Spirit.” After gaining “further clarification” during the next day’s Mass,  “she ordered a construction crew to be assembled and brought to her.

“She told them of the plan, and specified the site for the church. The workmen went to the location, and could not believe their eyes: The foundation was already poured, and the sketches for the church were waiting for them. The men went to work and, as usual, the queen paid regular visits.

imageRainha Santa Isabel post card and stamp

Image: AAC

“One day, while Elizabeth was supervising the work, a girl walked up to her to offer an armful of flowers. The queen took them and distributed them, one by one, to each workman:

“‘Let us see if today you will work hard and well for this pay,’ she quipped.

“Each worker graciously accepted his flower, and reverently put it in his satchel. When the day’s work was done, each man found not a flower in his satchel, but a gold coin.”

Rainha Isabel‘s greatest miracles, however, involved the transformation not of flowers but of armies. She managed to maintain the peace between her combattive son and King Dinis for the throne of Portugal and later with the princes of Castile.

Rainha Santa Isabel is venerated in Zaragoza, Spain, and with great affection throughout her adopted homeland of Portugal. For her powers of peace, she is invoked “in time of war.” So before the bottle rockets glare, may she and her roses be remembered today in the U.S., too.   


Posted by Julie on 07/04 at 12:55 PM
Culture & SocietyPoliticsReligious RitualsPermalink

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Hard Corsages—Gaman

Delphine Hirasuna explores how the human spirit flowered behind barbed wire.


Shell-flower pin with roses and lily of the valley

made at a U.S. Japanese Internment Camp

Reprinted with permission from The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts

from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946

Copyright © 2005 by Delphine Hirasuna, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA

Photo: Terry Heffernan

When Americans hear “concentration camp,” we tend to think of Germany and Poland—not Topaz, Utah, or—for that matter—Guantanamo Bay.

Delphine Hirasuna, a California designer and author, forces a more honest reflection. Her book The Art of Gaman presents a close, exquisite study of objects made in U.S. concentration camps—by the Japanese-Americans imprisoned in the racist panic after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Dec. 7, 1941.  More than 100,000 men, children, and women of Japanese ancestry were quickly rounded up. “Allowed only what they could carry, they were given just a few days to settle their affairs and report to assembly centers. Businesses were lost, personal property was stolen or vandalized, and lives were shattered.”


Perimeter of Japanese internment camp, Tule Lake

Photo: Special Collections, Univ. of Utah

Bereft and jailed in remote spots like Rohwer, Arkansas,  they came to rely on “gaman,” a quality that Hirasuna translates as “enduring what seems unbearable with dignity and grace.” And here are 150 pieces of evidence.

Hirasuna explores both the facts and the psychology of camp life through articles the prisoners made—woodcarvings, paintings, embroidery and many exquisite “floral” pins created with shells and glue. Delphine generously has written to us that most of these shell-flower pieces came from the internment camps at Tule Lake, California, and Topaz, Utah. 

imageThe Art of Gaman

by Delphine Hirasuna

“Both were built over dry lakebeds in desert areas.  Internees discovered that millions of shells of all sizes and shapes were scattered all over the ground and buried in layers more (than) a foot deep. People scooped them up, sorted them into sizes, bleached them, painted them and turned them into an array of objects including many types of flowers, butterflies, cartoon characters….”

The workmanship and aesthetic delicacy of these pieces are stunning. But what we find most moving is their faithfulness; using shells, the makers strove to depict not “flowers” in some pretty generic way but lilies of the valley, roses, violas, as exactly as possible. For isn’t “dignity” really the consequence of integrity?

Delphine writes that shell flowers, made with found materials, were inexpensive, therefore possible, even in these punishing circumstances. “Also, the floral shell pins satisfied the desire to have corsages and floral displays for weddings and funerals. In the desert, flowers and vegetation were extremely scarce, so people improvised and, I suspect, chose as inspiration the flowers they loved back home.”

It was possible, through makeshift flowers, to honor both the memory of the past and, as life went oddly on, the occasions of a horribly restricted present.

In this interview with curators from the Japanese American Museum, Hirasuna further explains the impetus behind her book and the process of bringing it together—not easy, since many objects made in the camps were too fragile to have survived; many more, considered “busy work,” were abadoned. Hirasuna hopes that The Art of Gaman will draw more such objects out of attics into the light, as revelations of fortitude and culture.

“When someone was really down people would band together and bring over something to beautify the person’s barrack—a carving, an embroidered doily, a papier mache floral arrangement. In the stark camp environment, things of beauty sustain the soul, remind people of their humanity….The act of creating gave them something that no guard or government could take away.”


Ikebana competition at a NW Internment Camp

Japanese in Puget Sound

A further affirmation, we found this image of ikebana created by Japanese prisoners held in Washington state.

Through August, the library at California State University, Sacramento, exhibits The Art of Gaman, including many of these floral pins. (Note: the library will be closed July 4th.)  The collection then travels to San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and Folk Art, November 2-January 21, 2007. 

Congratulations to Delphine Hirasuna. And many thanks to Maria Henson, friend in Sacramento, for sending word.

Posted by Julie on 07/02 at 12:21 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPoliticsPermalink
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