In a 10-year celebration of the space, the East 40 Community Garden at Northampton Community College (NCC) hosted three Artists-in-Residence for a special workshop day. Artists shared their stories and helped NCC students, faculty, staff, and community members create their own artwork.
The East 40, named for the 40 acres it sits on, allows gardeners from the College and the larger community to come together to experience service learning, sustainable gardening, ecological awareness, and healthy living. The garden provides resources to around 20 families in the area. Kelly Allen, East 40 coordinator and professor at NCC, says the garden is “off the grid,” with no running water or electricity. The garden, instead, has a cistern and bioswale that is used to collect rainwater, resourceless at its best.
The Artists-in-Residence have been at the East 40 Garden since the summer and will be there until the middle of October creating their pieces. Liz Wheeler is a ceramics professor at NCC. When the pandemic hit, she was able to use the East 40 Garden to teach her ceramics class since it was outside. This was her push to get more people involved in the space. Essye Klempner is an artist from New York who does a lot of work with community gardens. In her experience at East 40, she has found being able to work in a space that uses local sources is something she appreciates and incorporates into her own work. Tony Williams, an NCC alum, has been able to witness the growth of the East 40 space. He has been involved with ceramics and the community garden area for the past four years.
All the artists mentioned the importance of and how special it is to work in the garden focusing on the abundance that the garden itself provides. The clay that the artists used during the workshops came directly from the property.
A wood fire kiln was active during the day for the artists to fire ceramic artwork. The artists noted that there is an interactive experience with the wood fire kiln as opposed to an electric kiln. They must keep adding wood to the fire and continually stoke the fire underneath to keep it going.
Klempner explained how the wood fire kiln creates multi-dimensional and unpredictable pieces. Ash will fall on the ceramics, adding texture to the pieces that otherwise would not have been created. She showed how the glaze and ceramics will fire and set differently as well. The same glaze will be used on two pieces, but one piece might be more vibrant than the other.
The workshops focused on tile imprinting and retaining. Guests took clay or tiles and pressed them against trees, flowers or other textures around the garden to make an imprint. These pieces will be fired in the wood kiln and, in about a month, will be returned to students, faculty, staff and community members who made them. The final workshop consisted of a large community tile where attendees used objects from the garden and a wooden rolling tool to imprint on the clay. Wheeler hopes that it will be hung up somewhere in the East 40 space.
Rachel Gorchov, assistant professor of fine art, discussed how the space is sometimes utilized by Fine Arts students who use the garden for still life studies. Occasionally classes are also held in the space.
Delicious and healthy bites were provided for guests of the garden, including power protein chocolate chip, peanut butter, and quinoa balls as well as vegetables and dip.
NCC student Olivia Morales, who attended the workshops, had the opportunity to tour the garden and pick and taste berries and edible flowers. Morales took a lot from the experience and said, “I feel like more students should visit this space! It really is such a special, resourceful place with such charm, and I really do hope more people go discover the East 40 garden!”