Tag Archives: Broadturn Farm

Lucinda Bliss

Art: Lucinda Bliss

an artist explores the physical—and conceptual—boundaries of farms

by Chelsea Holden Baker

The so-called ‘Ag Art’ movement may prove as important to farming’s future as land protection and food hubs, because art has the power to get us to think differently. And that—at heart—is what’s needed to rebuild our food system. Ag Art takes many forms. In 2013, artist and educator Lucinda Bliss was one participant in a group exhibition, Farming | Environment | Art, at Maine Farmland Trust Gallery in Belfast.

To describe how Lucinda Bliss created the work in her Boundaries series is simple: She called farmers. She asked if she could run their property lines. She showed up. She ran while logging her route on a GPS device. Then she returned to her studio, studied the map she’d made by her movement, and painted: six times, six different farms throughout the state.

Of course, that’s surface level, what’s easily seen and understood. Just as you can admire the beauty of crop rows, you can appreciate Bliss’ work for its formal qualities. But especially when taken as a series, Boundaries (among other things) asks the viewer to unpack their ideas about what a farm is, what their personal associations are, and what place agriculture holds in society.

“I’m a more conceptual artist than people first realize when they look at the work,” Bliss says. Her runs create a narrative structure that allows her to combine representation with abstraction, challenging viewers to linger longer than they might with a realistic depiction of the same place and experience.

Bliss’ work—both the act of making it and the final pieces—confronts the pastoral myth and ideas of ownership. Most farmers understand that you don’t truly own land, that you simply steward it for a time. Bliss says she knew she was “onto something” when she finished a run at Old Crow Ranch in Durham. She tried to thank farmer Steve Sinisi for allowing her eccentric project to take place—for making the space to think about one additional thing amidst the never-ending to-do list of a farm—and instead he thanked Bliss: “He said, ‘People come here all the time. They want to have a view of a farm, a real farmer, to take a picture of a pig, of the beautiful scene. But you, in doing this project, get that I take care of the air, the soil—the whole land. You and this project honored that.’”

Lucinda Bliss, Boundaries: Tide Mill, graphite pencil and watercolor on paper, 22" x 30", 2013, courtesy Aucocisco Galleries

Bliss is interested in how we “compartmentalize things on land and in ourselves,” including our ideas of what farming should look, smell, and sound like. In discussing another farm, Bliss relays how formerly friendly neighbors objected when pigs were brought in: “People love the idea of a farmer,” Bliss says, “and not so much the manure. It helps me realize how much farmers’ jobs can involve negotiating dialogue, getting in the good graces of their neighbors. Even though farming doesn’t happen in community as much anymore, they have to behave as if it does.”

In conversations before the run, Bliss would begin to build a sense of place through the way the farmers spoke about the land; it was a reminder of the intimacy that builds over time. Bliss says, “A farmer might tell me, ‘You’re gonna see an old stone wall, turn right. Run until you get to the old-growth cedar forest…’ but a farmer knows their land really well. I got lost on almost every single run.”

Back in the studio, Bliss would draw and redraw the contours of her GPS route until she had internalized the shape—the emblem—of that farm and experience. Bliss’ previous work has dealt with the themes of intimacy, personal boundaries, and the body: One of her most well known projects involved investigating desire with her mother, a poet. At first blush, this work may not seem aligned with that past, but the primal act of running ties it all together. Running is a way to bring you back to the body, back to nature, and in this case—back to the land. Bliss is painting relationships as much as places.

artwork

Lucinda Bliss, Boundaries: Tide Mill, graphite pencil and watercolor on paper, 22″ x 30″, 2013, courtesy Aucocisco Galleries

Lucinda Bliss, Boundaries: Broadturn, graphite pencil and watercolor on paper, 22″x 30″, 2013, collection: University of New England Art Gallery

Making New Connections

An intro to FarmLink from our Winter 2013 newsletter:

Land access is a particular challenge for beginning farmers. MFT’s FarmLink program helps farmland seekers connect with farmland owners, in an effort to facilitate affordable land transfer. To date, FarmLink has made 90 “links” throughout the state—many helping beginning farmers.

Successful links come in many different forms: sometimes a farmland seeker will buy land outright; sometimes the seeker and owner are more comfortable with a lease; and sometimes the owner and seeker forge an entirely unique arrangement.

Briis and Aaron arrived in Maine as interns at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough, after years of working on small farms on the West Coast and in Europe. The move to Maine was calculated: they had friends here, and land prices seemed remotely affordable compared to the rest of the East Coast. The couple perused newspaper ads and Craigslist. They also heard about FarmLink, and prepared an application.

The couple assumed they would spend years saving money and searching for the right farm. But then they saw the listing on FarmLink of a property owned by Brian Kent and Janet Pence.

Brian came to Maine in 1974, settling on a rolling piece of wooded land in Litchfield, criss-crossed with old stone walls and streams. In the years that followed, Brian and Janet carved out a homestead for their family, growing much of their own food and raising chickens. It was never a commercial farm, but as the couple grew older, they realized they needed new energy to keep the land productive. They didn’t want to sell the land—at least not yet; rather, they wanted to continue living in their house and create a partnership with people who would carry it into the next generation.

Brian and Janet listed the property on FarmLink for two years, and had dozens of phone conversations with aspiring farmers who weren’t quite the right fit. When Aaron and Briis visited for the first time, both parties knew right away that it was a match. They all agreed on a trial year, and now, three years later, Briis and Aaron are building a house on the property, and Brian and Janet are thrilled to see their land coming to life.

It’s not a “typical” arrangement. There’s no formal lease, no written agreement, and no money exchange. More than anything, Brian and Janet want to stay on their property and see their legacy carried on. In Aaron and Briis, they’ve found their ideal insurance: people they trust to reinvest in the land, and to take care of them as they age. Still, sharing land has its challenges. “We all had to change a bit,” said Janet, “to loosen up and learn how to work with each other.” Open communication is key to the relationship, and weekly farm meetings ensure that everyone is aware of changes and plans.

Briis and Aaron are raising vegetables, chickens, and goats. They sell their eggs through a neighboring farm, and hope to one day start a small goat dairy and creamery.