Blogs Field Guide Julie Caniglia

Julie Caniglia edits and writes for Walker, the bimonthly magazine for the Walker Art Center, and writes on all manner of cultural topics for other publications as well.

Meet the Schoenherrs: Woodbury Family Selected to Host Edible Estate Garden

So it’s not quite winning the lottery, but the Schoenherr family of Woodbury, Minn., did get lucky in being selected to have their front yard transformed into an “Edible Estate.” In the coming weeks the family of four — spouses Catherine and John and their children, Aaron and Andrea — will be working with artist […]

The Schoenherr family--X, Y, Z, and A--in front of the Woodbury lawn that'll be transformed into a vegetable garden. Photo: Gene Pittman

The Schoenherr family — John, Andrea, Catherine, and Aaron — in front of the Woodbury lawn that’ll be transformed into an Edible Estate vegetable garden. Photo: Gene Pittman

So it’s not quite winning the lottery, but the Schoenherr family of Woodbury, Minn., did get lucky in being selected to have their front yard transformed into an “Edible Estate.” In the coming weeks the family of four — spouses Catherine and John and their children, Aaron and Andrea — will be working with artist Fritz Haeg and a cadre of volunteers to create what Haeg calls “a diverse organic productive pleasure garden out the front door.” The fifteenth in a series of Edible Estates that Haeg has created around the world, this one brings the eight-year project to a close, and is a homecoming of sorts for the artist, who grew up in suburban Minneapolis and is now based in Los Angeles.

Some 100 families from all over the Twin Cities metro region offered their lawns and their labor for the project, responding to a call for participants that went out two months ago. Haeg noted that the Schoenherrs are just what he’d hoped for: They live in an outer suburb; their front lawn is large and highly visible, with lots of sun exposure; and they have gardening skills. And while that last qualification only came about recently for the family, their energy, enthusiasm and sheer ambition will prove as valuable as years of  experience digging, tending, and harvesting.

Interestingly, it was 24-year-old Aaron’s work toward a statistics degree at the University of Minnesota that led the Schoenherrs to grow their own food. “He was required to develop a project that didn’t involve people, so he created different scenarios growing plants, which he discovered he really loved,” says Catherine. “I recalled Harry Truman’s quote, ‘the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.’ So I asked John if he’d be interested in renting land to grow vegetables, and he jumped on it.” That was just a year ago — before then, the family’s food-growing was limited to a couple of tomato pots, a raspberry patch, and some strawberries.

After a summer tending their 35-by-80-foot plot, the gardening bug had taken hold. The family enjoyed spending time together working as adults, and Catherine in particular found that “working with my hands, getting dirty, watching a dill seed that you can hardly see become a huge plant that you make pickles with — all of that is magical. A lot of good work and good energy comes out of that.”

By the end of the year she was growing hydroponic lettuce in their basement: “Food you grow yourself tastes better. I want more of that in our lives.” The family was planning to forego the rental land and set up some 30 straw bales, the newest trend in home gardening, in the backyard for the current growing season (some of those bales will now be part of the Edible Estate on view to the public).

Then Catherine read a Star Tribune piece about Haeg’s Edible Estates project. “As soon as I read the story I thought, yes, let’s do that. We were all pretty excited about it.”

John points out that their rental plot last summer is about the same size as their newly established Edible Estate, and they won’t have the daily commute, some 40 minutes total. “I look at this as an opportunity to create a place where we can meet with neighbors and share food,” he says. “It also keeps our family working on things together — the kids are out of the house, so it brings them back.” (Aaron lives in St. Paul and 22-year-old Andrea is a dance instructor in Woodbury.) Catherine is looking forward to creating a section of the Edible Estate for children — a supplement of sorts to the Little Free Library already standing in the yard, which is popular with youngsters at her neighbor’s home childcare business.

If there’s one aspect of the project that attracts John above all others, it’s the “very strong possibility” of including a community bread oven in the Estate. As with the straw bales, this project was already in the works, inspired by a class he took at Grand Marais’ North House Folk School. “Other people in our neighborhood also bake bread, so we hope to pull this off.”

Both John, an engineering manager at 3M, and Catherine, a part-time massage therapist and artist who makes bracelets with reindeer leather, are big supporters of the Folk School. Catherine calls it her “home away from home”; she’s learned how to spin and weave there, as well as make paper, sausage, and pickles, and helped her father teach canoe building — all skills that could play into the Walker exhibition Domestic Integrities A05, opening on August 8 as another component of Haeg’s six-month artist residency. “I believe working with your hands and making things changes who a person is,” she says.

Despite the dramatic transformation to come, she is not worried about standing out in Woodbury, which, as she noted in responding to the Edible Estates call, is “a place I affectionately call Beigeville.” Instead, she views the undertaking as an opportunity to show one of many alternative ways “to live and be in the world. As a family in suburbia, our front yard will say, ‘here’s another option to think about.’”

Update: Here’s how Edible Estate #15 looks after installation on Memorial Day Weekend 2013.

Hunters and Collectors: ArtsConnectEd

Online visitors, students, and educators get creative with a dynamic new ArtsConnectEd.org As back-to-school rituals go, logging on to new Web sites is today’s equivalent to that analog practice of signing out a heavy load of textbooks. This fall, K–12 students and their teachers across Minnesota will usher in the new year by exploring a […]

ArtsConnectEd Hunter

Online visitors, students, and educators get creative with a dynamic new ArtsConnectEd.org

As back-to-school rituals go, logging on to new Web sites is today’s equivalent to that analog practice of signing out a heavy load of textbooks. This fall, K–12 students and their teachers across Minnesota will usher in the new year by exploring a fully overhauled, freshly supercharged artsconnected.org—the product of a long-standing educational partnership between the Walker and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA).

When it originally launched in 1998, ArtsConnectEd’s function was to provide digital access to the collections at both institutions, mainly for people who couldn’t make the trip to the Twin Cities. Now, browsing more than 90,000 works of art, plus reading, watching, and listening to more than 1,000 art-related articles and video/audio records is just the beginning. The big change in the new version of ArtsConnectEd is the ease with which teachers and students at all grade levels can use this content to create presentations, quizzes, handouts, lesson plans, research, and curricula—and share these materials with each other. A host of examples is already available for use in the classroom, such as an “Animals in Art” presentation that includes an ancient Chinese bronze horse from the MIA and Franz Marc’s The Large Blue Horses, a highlight of the Walker collection; and “Building a Story,” which helps students create a fictional tale based on works of art. One lesson investigates different kinds of brushstrokes; another offers an “adventure” for younger students based around the color red. One teacher had his students use the site to create MySpace-style pages focused on photographers that interested them.

“It is much more self-directed in its design than many other online resources,” says Kevan Nitzberg, an Anoka High School teacher who is part of a “power user” group that has been using ArtsConnectEd since its earliest days. “That helps to give students open-ended access to researching and using the data they discover.” He and his fellow power-user teachers are developing and field-testing activities with the new site in classrooms around Minnesota this fall. “We really re-envisioned this site as an easy, flexible, and fun-to-use tool,” says Susan Rotilie, the Walker’s manager for school programs, who is a codirector of ArtsConnectEd along with the MIA’s Treden Wagoner. “We’re looking forward to seeing the creative ways that people put it to work in all academic disciplines.”

The relaunch, which has been funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, represents a milestone in a partnership between the Walker and the MIA that goes back more than 10 years. “As the needs of our audiences have changed and our technological capabilities have changed, our commitment to ArtsConnectEd and our partnership with the Walker have grown,” says Wagoner, the MIA’s technology and training specialist. He and Rotilie, plus other education and new media staff at both institutions, have been working for more than two years on the overhaul with Sandbox Studios, Inc., a company that works with museums on education and technology projects. In addition, the ongoing consultation, feedback, and testing from those ArtsConnectEd “power users” have been instrumental. “Our opinions always were important, which often isn’t the case in a public school system,” says Litchfield High School teacher Gerard Kulzer. Rotilie says the ArtsConnectEd redesign wouldn’t have been possible without Kulzer and his colleagues. “They challenged us to make the new ArtsConnectEd useful in the classroom and pushed us to create a state-of-the-art online educational resource.”

Aside from boasting an array of new functions, the redesigned ArtsConnectEd reflects other, broader changes on the Internet, such as the shift to engage people as creators of and contributors to Web sites. ArtsConnectEd still showcases the Walker and MIA collections, but it does so through the content that users create. Another change reflects new “learning/teaching paradigms that have literally turned the entire educational process on its head,” as Nitzberg puts it—such as considering teachers and students as both consumers and producers of information. “When students provide their own direction to their learning experience, ultimately that experience is much more meaningful,” he says.

Finally, the relaunch of ArtsConnectEd is just one way in which the Walker is responding to broader cultural shifts in learning enhanced by the power of online technologies. “Introducing new tools for accessing and sharing information is just the beginning,” says Walker director Olga Viso. “Along with other new programs and initiatives, including a major reinstallation of our collections in November, ArtsConnectEd presents opportunities for people to be creative themselves, to have two-way conversations about art, and to contribute to an expanding network of communities both here and outside the state of Minnesota. Ultimately, it’s one of our key tools for connecting art and the visions of artists to the larger world.”

ArtsConnectEd Homepage

ArtsConnectEd is a joint project of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center. The project to improve ArtsConnectEd was funded by an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant.