The amber waves of grain growing all summer beside Ladiesburg Road in Union Bridge, Md., were buckwheat. The pancakes made from the flour of that buckwheat were yesterday's breakfast at Union Bridge Fire Department.
It was all in the name of socially responsible art, from the mind of one Jo Israelson, whose nom d'artiste is Chanah. "Feeding the hungry is one aspect of the project," explains Israelson. "We grew buckwheat on four acres donated by a farmer, and turned it into a neolithic goddess site. It became a sacred site, with artwork, planting and harvesting. From the harvest, we're using the flour for bread and pancakes, and donating the rest to food banks."
Nearly 4,000 pounds of flour is coming from the site, which Israelson took over last December with a ritualistic ceremony on the winter solstice. In the spring, friends helped build a low wall on a plot of land 35 feet square, into which Israelson placed her half-ton sculpture "The Sleeping Goddess." Israelson was inspired by recent trips to the Mediterranean, specifically Malta. "I was doing research on stone sculptures, and found some of the best neolithic sites in Malta. They had a female-based culture, based on nurturing. They haven't found any war implements, and the whole society produced works of art." She says Maltese temples were often built on hillsides, and surrounded by fields.
In June, Israelson and friends planted the buckwheat, as well as hollow ceramic "seeds" containing notes with wishes written on them. Those seeds might remain forever, but the goddess will have to find a new home. "I don't think the farmer is interested in having a neolithic sculpture on his land permanently," Israelson says, laughing. Another solstice ceremony is planned for December, when it's likely the statue will be removed and the project will come to an end.
Until then, the goddess can be seen in a field near Union Bridge (ask directions at Israelson's Firehouse Studio, 410-775-1093). Also, through Oct. 2 at the Metropol Cafe and Art Gallery in Baltimore, the exhibit "Seeds of Change: The Harvest" is on view, featuring smaller sculptures and terra cotta figures, and explanatory sketches of the goddess and other works by Israelson.
Tapping Into CFC Funds
A much-needed source of funding for local arts groups has been added to the campaign of the United Way of the National Capital Area, the annual workplace drive that kicked off late last week. The United Arts Organization of Greater Washington, a federation of 31 arts institutions, joined the list of groups that can be checked off for a contribution.
For 20 years, the UAO has been a project of Aldus Chapin, its president, who has been a fund-raiser and board member of several Washington arts groups, and impresario Patrick Hayes, founder of the Washington Performing Arts Society. Two years ago the UAO was included in the United Way's Combined Federal Campaign, according to Chapin, and donations to the arts through the UAO increased more than 75 percent in the first year.
"The members should be looked at as service organizations because they do deliver to the community, not just as performing or exhibition groups," said Chapin. "It is all 31 who in a sense are replacing arts education in the schools. As arts are among the first subjects to go in the schools because of budget concerns, these organizations are picking up."
Among the groups eligible for funds are the Dance Exchange, Fairfax Symphony, Ellington Fund, National Symphony, Studio Theatre, Wolf Trap Foundation, Olney Theatre and Arts Council of Montgomery County. "So often people don't know how to support the arts. This is an opportunity to have a choice of where donor dollars can go," said Jennifer Cover Payne, the executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington. The alliance, an umbrella group for the region's arts groups, is also a beneficiary of the UAO.
Through United Way, the UAO has a potential audience of 1.35 million employees from both the federal government and the private sector. The names of the donors will be available to the groups, said Chapin, "as sources of income, yes, but also as an audience-building mechanism."
Michael Monroe, longtime curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery, announced last week he will retire in May 1995. Monroe, who joined the Renwick in 1974, has been its chief officer since 1986 ... Today from 1 to 5 p.m. the National Library of Medicine presents a program on Islamic culture and medicine, in conjunction with the opening of its exhibit of Arabic and Persian manuscripts, "Islamic Culture and the Medical Arts." The library, at 8600 Rockville Pike in Bethesda, can be reached at 301-496-6308.