At the time, he started collecting early 20th-century seed catalogues from New York state. “I was thinking about that in terms of research. What I didn’t expect was how beautiful the catalogues were,” he said. “It’s a completely different feeling going through catalogues of images created by artists. The catalogues with photographs felt very sterile to me.”
And so when he left the bricks-and-mortar library to become a seed farmer, he saw art as a way to convey the story of the seeds, “but make it contemporary.”
He likes to tell the story of Larry Fuscher in Stone Ridge, N.Y. who gave him the seed of a family heirloom, a luscious beefsteak tomato borne on a sprawling, vigorous vine. The fruit is round, lobed, red with yellow-green shoulders.
Greene asked Josephine Bloodgood — sister of the squash artist — to tackle the Stone Ridge Tomato, and the result is a swirling, sensuous depiction in acrylics of the grower squeezing out the seeds from a mammoth tomato.
“A lot of her work is from the perspective of looking down, like you’re looking at your own hand. That was a really good fit for this variety because it has been passed down hand to hand, generation to generation, and the reason it’s still alive is because of people saving seeds by hand,” he said.
Sometimes, Greene has to supply the narrative. When the Faberge beets arrived, he tried to find a connection between beets and the master jeweler and found it in a major grower of sugar beets in pre-revolutionary Russia named Pavel Kharitonenko. “The Sugar King” used some of his riches to collect jewelry by Carl Faberge.
Rybak, of Highland, N.Y., created the images digitally, and loved using the strong magenta hues as “a killer color.”
“I like the juxtaposition of the humble beet growing in the dirt and the ornateness of Faberge,” he said. "I like that clash.”
Greene commissions around 20 new art pack covers a year, from almost 300 submissions vetted by him and creative partner Michael Asbill, an artist and neighbor who furnished one of the art pack images (Speckled Trout Lettuce).
Rybak’s beets picture has proven very popular, as has an image for baby onions, named Evergreen Scallions, by April Warren. The painting renders the scallions as trees in a pondside forest, a red rowboat adds a splash of color. “It’s a bit surreal, it’s a bit haunting,” said Asbill, as he was installing the exhibition at THEARC.
At first, Greene would send tortuous e-mails to those who didn’t make the cut. Then he got e-mails back saying “it’s okay, we are used to it. Cut to the chase.”
The idea of a guy being a seed farmer, seed merchant and art patron may seem unlikely, but Greene feels that the enterprise neatly ties together the strands of his life.
“I love plants, I love art, I love education and I love thinking I’m making a difference,” he said. “So it’s kind of everything I’m passionate about wrapped up into one entity.”
He added, though, that “I had no idea I would end up with such an amazing art collection when I decided I would be a seed farmer.”
Art of the Heirloom
through June 30 at Corcoran Community Gallery, 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE. Monday-Friday,
11 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.