Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rubber Flowers

Smallholders in Sri Lanka turn to handicrafts.


Milroy Fernando, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Plantations, announced a program to train small farmers to make flowers out of rubber leaf

Photo: Asian Tribune

You can be sure a region’s economy is in trouble when the economic development idea is handicrafts. Along with tourism, with which such a strategy is often paired, it means little or no investment and low-paid employment—a last resort of poor places.

With an average per capita monthly income of 3056 rupees (a little over $28 USD) it’s not too surprising that Sri Lanka would be considering handicrafts. Earlier this month the Rubber Research Institute in Colombo announced a pilot program to train farmers with small plots of rubber trees to turn the leaf into ornaments, including flowers. We don’t know the state of the latex and timber markets, but this doesn’t sound good.

“The RRI is pleased introduce individual flowers made out of skeletonised rubber leaves for souvenir collectors.” Minister of Plantations Milroy Fernando advocated producing these ornamental flowers “at a commercial scale.” The first rubber bouquet was to be presented to Sri Lankan president Mahindha Rajapaksha.


Posted by Julie on 12/13 at 11:13 PM
Culture & SocietyPermalink

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nuestra Señora


By the end of the day, December 12, 2006

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Austin, TX

Photo: Bill Bishop

In Mexico City, more than 5 million pilgrims came to her Basilica. Thousands danced to honor her in the streets of Los Angeles. Her image was dedicated for the first time inside a Virginia church.

Here in Austin, Texas, Our Lady of Guadalupe was filled with holy celebration from sunup until long after dark on this, her feast day. By 9 pm, the church and a grotto outside both overflowed with roses.

“In 1531, during the conquest of Mexico by Spain, an apparition appeared to Juan Diego, a lowly Indian walking to Mass near Mexico City. The apparition requested him to deliver to the bishop a request to build a church at that spot in her honor. After rebuffing Juan Diego several times, the bishop asked for a sign.

imageThe main altar Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church

December 12, 2006

Photo: Bill Bishop

“When the apparition appeared to Juan Diego again, he told her of the bishop’s request. The Virgin instructed Juan Diego to gather roses that were growing nearby, unusual for that time of year, as the sign of her existence. When Juan Diego went to the bishop, he opened his tilma to show him the roses, revealing instead an image imprinted on the cloak of a cinnamon-skinned virgin who came to be known as Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

“A few years later, the first church was built on that spot in Tepeyac, a few miles north of Mexico City.”

The oldest sources we could find for this story don’t specify the flowers were roses, but over time they have come to be the flowers most associated with “The Mother of the Americas.”

David Sedeño wrote a fine article for the Ft. Worth newspaper about current controversies surrounding the Virgin of Guadalupe. Her presence, powerful and growing, disquiets some non-Hispanic Catholics. Others complain that Protestant denominations have adopted the Mexican Mary to recruit new members.

“She is an image of a mestiza which gives us a kind of picture of what the future of the Church, with a capital C, is going to look like,”  Maxwell Johnson, a Lutheran and a theology professor at Notre Dame University, told Sedeño.  “Ultimately, in the future, we all are going to resemble her.”

Rev. Virgilio Elizondo of San Antonio isn’t worried that Protestants have been drawn to Our Lady of Guadalupe: “It’s expanding something that is very true and very beautiful.”


Posted by Julie on 12/12 at 11:03 PM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsPermalink

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Stone Flower

Today, a tale. “The Stone Flower” originally was told by the Ural Mountains miners and then written down by P. Bazhov. Sergei Prokofiev based his final ballet on the story—of a hero, enchanted by his own talent and ambition, who struggles between what ee cummings called “the world of born and the world of made.” Some say Prokofiev chose a lightweight story out of cowardice, after he had been publicly denounced by Stalin for creating “antidemocratic” art. The tale strikes us otherwise, as defiance of totalitarianism and the machine. Read on!


The Stone Flower

A long time ago in one Russian mountain village there lived a famous craftsman named Prokopyich. He made jewelry and other things of malachite and was renowned as the best gem carver in the Urals. The rulers ordered him to teach some boys his profession, but none of them was talented enough.

At the same time an orphan named Danila lived in the village. He was weak and couldn’t work at the factory. But he was full of dreams and liked to observe nature. Once he tried to help an old herdsman, but when he played his flute, the old shepherd felt asleep and several cattle were eaten by wolves. Danila and the herdsman were severely beaten.

A kind old woman took Danila into her house and healed him using many herbs and flowers. She taught him the lore of plants, and one day told him about the Stone Flower from Malachite Mountain. She told him it was the most beautiful flower in the world. But she also warned him, “Whoever finds that flower will never be happy.”

imageDanila and his malachite vase

Image: Russian Fairy Tales

After Danila recovered, the manager of the factory sent him to Prokopyich to study gem carving. He was surprisingly gifted. Prokopyich was a widower without children, and he loved the boy as if he were his own son. Several years passed. Danila became a strong, handsome young man.

One day the owner of the factory sent him a commission to make a vase of malachite, along with a sketch of what he wanted. Danila began the intricate task, but he was unsatisfied with the idea on the sketch. Every day he went to the woods looking for inspiration and observing many flowers and plants. He worked for a long time and at last completed a vase like the one in the sketch. When he showed it to the other craftsmen, they liked it and praised it.

But Danila said, “This vase is made precisely according to the sketch, but there is no living beauty in it. When you look at the simplest flower, joy fills your heart because of its beauty. Where is there such beauty in the stone?”

One very old craftsman warned him, “Don’t even think that way. Otherwise you could become a servant of the Mistress of Copper Mountain. Her workers live and work in the Mountain and nobody ever sees them. Once I was lucky enough to see their work. Magnificent! Our work can’t compare with theirs, because they have seen the Stone Flower and understand the beauty of the stone.”

imageTamara Makarova as the Queen of Copper Hill

in Aleksandr Ptushko’s film version

of The Stone Flower (1946)

After this conversation Danila went to the woods more often looking for a block of stone for his own vase. Prokopyich was worried about him and urged him to marry the nice girl named Katya to whom Danila was engaged. But Danila said, “I want to wait! First I need to make my own vase and then we will think about marriage.”.

One day he was in the woods looking for stone and suddenly heard a whisper saying, “Danila-Craftsman, look for stone on Serpent Hill.” He turned around and saw the dim outline of a woman, which vanished in a second. He thought, “Perhaps it was the Mistress of Copper Mountain!” So he went to Serpent Hill and found a huge block of malachite. He was very glad, took the stone home and started to carve the vase.

But soon again he was disappointed with the result and said sadly, “Maybe I am just not able to understand the power and the beauty of the stone.” Meanwhile he and Katya announced the date of their wedding. The day before the wedding he went for a walk to Serpent Hill again, sat down and thought about the Stone Flower. “How I desire to see that Flower!” he mused.

All of a sudden the Mistress of Copper Mountain appeared before his eyes. Danila began to implore her: “There is no life for me without seeing that Flower!”

She replied, “I could show it to you, but afterwards you will regret it. Those who have seen my Flower have left their family and come to live in my mountain. Think about Prokopyich and Katya who love you.”

“I know,” shouted Danila, “but I must see it.” “All right,” she said. “Let’s go then to my garden.” So she took him and showed him the wonderful Stone Flower.

In the evening Danila came to the village. His fiancee Katya had a party the day before the wedding. At first he had fun, danced, and sang songs, but then he became sadder and sadder. To Katya’s questions he replied that he had a headache. After the party he returned home, broke his vase and ran away.

The village was full of rumors after he disappeared, but no one knew where he had gone. Three years passed. Katya did not get married. After her parents died she came to live with old Prokopyich and helped him in his work. But soon Prokopyich died, too, and Katya started to live on her own. She did not have any money, so she decided to try making some brooches.

imageEkaterina Maximova as Katya, The Stone Flower (1959)

Photo: Y. Umnov

She went to Serpent Hill hoping to find good pieces of stone. But at the hill she remembered her beloved Danila and wept. Suddenly she saw a beautiful piece of malachite. Katya took it home and tried to carve several brooches. She worked hard and well and her carving beautifully set off the natural patterns in the stone. Katya was happy when she sold her works to a merchant in the village. She thought, “My brooches are the best in his store. I was lucky finding that malachite. Maybe it was Danila who helped me?”

She ran again to Serpent Hill looking for another good stone. But she thought again of Danila and burst into tears, sobbing, “Where are you, my beloved friend? Why did you leave me?” When Katya looked around it seemed to her she stood in an unfamiliar woods, and the mountain opened before her eyes. “Here is the magic mountain,” she thought. “Maybe I could see my Danila.”

When Katya looked down, she saw a man who looked just like Danila. The man raised his hands toward her. She wanted to jump down to him, but the vision disappeared. She told her relatives what she had seen but they did not believe her and decided that she must be ill.

The next day Katya ran to the hill hoping desperately to see Danila. Her sister followed her. Katya came to the same place and found herself in the magic woods. She started to call out, “Danila, where are you? Answer me!” The echo answered: “He is not here! He is not here!” Then suddenly the Mistress of Copper Mountain appeared and demanded, “Why did you come to my garden? If you need the stones, take what you wish and go away.”

Brave Katya replied, “I don’t need your dead stones. Give me my Danila back. You don’t have the right to take another’s fiance.” The Mistress laughed. “Do you have any idea whom you are speaking to?” Katya cried out, “I am not blind, I know who you are. I am not afraid of you! Not at all! And I know that Danila wants to come back to me.” The Mistress said, “All right, let him speak then.”

imageImage: Russian Lacquer Art

At the same moment Katya saw Danila. The Mistress said, “You have to choose, Danila-Craftsman. If you go with her, you will forget everything you saw and learned in the mountain. If you want to stay here, you have to forget the rest of the world.”

Danila sighed, “I am sorry. I can’t forget the people I love. I think about Katya every minute of my life.” The Mistress smiled and said, “All right, Danila. Go back home. And for your honesty and loyalty I will give you a present. You will not lose your knowledge that you have learned here. But do not tell people about the mountain. If somebody asks you where you have been, just say that you went away to improve your skill.”

Katya and Danila returned home, filled with joy. Katya’s sister could not find her in the woods and returned home. When she came into the house she saw Danila and Katya. She cried out, “Danila, where have you been?” Danila just smiled. “I went to study my craft with a master who lives far away.” Katya and Danila lived happily together for many years. He became known far and wide as the greatest carver in the Ural Mountains.

Posted by Julie on 12/11 at 05:27 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPermalink

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Wildflower Mix Goes Vroom

A Minnesota researcher finds native prairie plants and flowers outperform monocrops by a mile.


Lovegrass grown on a former rice farm, Pierce, Texas

Below: Maximilliam sunflower, gayfeather, and bushy


Photos: David Todd

Could the fuel crisis lead to laissez-faire farming?

David Tilman, a biologist at University of Minnesota, probably wouldn’t call it that. But in ten years of experimentation at Cedar Creek Natural History Area 30 miles north of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Tilman has found that when lots of native plants of the prairie are grown all together, they produce more efficient and eco-friendly fuel than single crop intensive agriculture can. To this point, mega-rowcrops like corn, sunflowers, and soybeans, have dominated the biofuels research effort (hmm, why might that be?). Tilman’s latest study, released today in Science magazine may turn that big rig around.

imageHe writes, “High-diversity grasslands had increasingly higher bioenergy yields that were 238% greater than monoculture yields after a decade.”

Further, the mix of prairie plants can do well on poor soils (no need for expensive fertilizers). And the process for converting the grasses and wildflowers into fuel is “carbon-negative—meaning the plants can store more carbon in their roots than they will create during their conversion to biofuels or electricity.”  This article will set you chemists aglow with more information.

imageTilman is at the forefront of this research on the benefits of native grasslands, though prairie advocacy has been mounting with enough force to waken Laura Ingles Wilder from the sod.

imageOur friend and neighbor David Todd, who leads the ambitious Texas Legacy Project, wrote us a couple of months ago about visiting Pierce, TX. “Pierce was the heart of the old Shanghai Pierce ranching empire, down between Wharton and El Campo,” he said.  “Like a lot of the old coastal ranches, they have been hit pretty hard by the collapse in rice prices and slow decline in oil and gas production, and are looking for alternatives.” 

David met with Bill Stransky, who’s been encouraging the ranch owners “to capitalize on the 300 or so acres of native coastal tallgrass prairie that they have scattered around the ranch, and sell the seed from those prairies for prairie reconstruction elsewhere.” Such reconstruction would, of course, be a crucial step in developing Tilman’s discoveries if we get serious about biofuels.

imageExperimental plots at Cedar Creek Natural History Area: one planted “with four species of flowering prairie plants known as forbs. The adjacent plots, in clockwise rotation, are planted with eight species, four species and 16 species.”

Photo: David Tilman

Check out some of the photos from Cedar Creek, both aerial and ground level. Reconstructing “diversity” looks pretty arduous and peculiar, with plant combinations sliced into research grids. It’s going to be a long way back from fossil fuels and megafarming, but Tilman—David Todd and Bill Stransky, too—have us headed in the right direction.

Posted by Julie on 12/10 at 02:51 PM
Page 3 of 5 pages  < 1 2 3 4 5 >