Every once in a while, I completely forget that not everyone has had the same life experience and knowledge that I have. We’ve all done it. Recently, at a local produce auction, I was inspecting some lovely white eggplant that, unlike the eggplant that most are familiar with, was two inches in diameter and 5-6 inches long. An older gentleman came up to me and asked, “What are those?” I was stunned that someone buying vegetables at a produce auction wasn’t aware of different varieties. Take a look at photo transfer image on this little art quilt that I made a few years ago. Among an amazing assortment of peppers, there is a basket of tiny green eggplant, and another basket of white eggplant looking very much like… eggs.
Eggplant isn’t just eggplant, there are the standard pear shaped black, and then there are other shapes, colors and tastes. The same goes for most other cultivated fruits and vegetables. Of course, I politely explained the world of eggplant varieties to the man, and perhaps he went away a bit wiser. I have a series going of heirloom vegetable quilts. Here is a fabric portrait of carrots that I grow, in colors true to the real roots.
A week later, I was contemplating a half peck of okra that I wanted, and another bidder asked me a familiar question, “What are those?” Another teaching moment, and this time, I piqued this gentleman’s curiously. He asked if he could have a few to try if I ended up buying them. I readily agreed, wanting to encourage him to try something new. I was the high bidder on the okra, and I kept my promise, giving him a generous handful with cooking instructions.
Those of us who are creative in the visual arts need to look for similar encouraging teaching moments in our encounters who might be curious about making something but think that they cannot. Take a travel kit of art supplies wherever you go, sit out where others can see you make something. Have some finished artist trading cards to give away, or even give out some extra supplies like a blank card and a few colored pencils. Encourage anyone who asks about what you are doing. Be positive, talk to them about being persistent and patient about learning something new. Ask them if they make a craft, or if anyone in their family has a special skill. Share your knowledge, and look to learn new things from others.
In case you are curious about the world of heirloom vegetables, check out Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Seeds. And for the record, I am not a vegetarian, I love a good hamburger and many other delicious foods.