Kentucky artist Arwen Donahue lives in Nicholas County, Kentucky, where she operates Three Springs Farm with her family. Three Springs Farm is the longest-running Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in central Kentucky and was the focus of Arwen’s journal titled Landings, a year-long record of daily life at Three Springs Farm in words and pictures. Our banner image (above) for this issue of Still: The Journal is from Arwen’s Landings.
Arwen is a multidisciplinary artist. Her comic book Old Man Gloom, which she wrote and illustrated, received a 2012 Xeric Foundation Grant in 2012, and she has illustrated Rebecca Gayle Howell's Render / An Apocalypse (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013), Leatha Kendrick's Almanac of the Invisible (forthcoming from Larkspur, 2014), Silas House's Recruiters (Larkspur, 2011), and other books for Larkspur Press.
Arwen is also a writer and oral historian. She has directed major projects for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, and is the author of This is Home Now: Kentucky’s Holocaust Survivors Speak, a book that resulted from ten years of interviews with Holocaust survivors who settled in the Bluegrass State. She co-authored the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Oral History Interview Guidelines and its permanent on-line exhibit Life After the Holocaust. Arwen recently contracted with Planned Parenthood Federation of America to conduct oral histories as they approach their 100th anniversary, and she is working on a multimedia project combining oral history interviews with watercolor portraits of American agrarian writers.
She has received numerous grants and fellowships for her work, including an Al Smith Fellowship in creative nonfiction from the Kentucky Arts Council, Artist Enrichment grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and project grants from both the Kentucky Humanities Council and the Kentucky Oral History Commission. More of Arwen’s art and words can be seen on her website.
Farming has taught me something important about art, I think. I once had the idea that art results from an artist exerting the force of her imagination on a blank canvas or blank page. When I started cultivating crops, I had a similar concept of the process: the earth was a sort of tabula rasa, to which we would apply seeds and water, and eventually it would yield its harvest.
One day some years ago, while harvesting tomatoes, I realized I had it wrong. We had a bumper crop that year, and couldn’t keep up with all the picking and processing. Many fruits had dropped to the ground and split; the soil was swallowing their seeds, and I knew we’d have unplanned tomatoes in that spot the following year. There were so many things I wanted to do with my life that day—and in the tomato-filled days that had come before, and were still to come—none of which had anything to do with tomatoes (write or draw something on a blank piece of paper, for example). Yet I could not possibly let more beautiful tomatoes rot. They would feed us through the winter, after all. And I realized something that seems self-evident to me now: the tomatoes were making me, as much as (or perhaps more than) I had made them.
The words and pictures in this gallery are from Landings, a drawing journal that chronicles a year in the life of Three Springs Farm, where my family and I live and work. These pictures tell the story of a year in tomatoes, from seedlings protected in the April greenhouse, to rangy plants growing faster than we can trellis them, to the abundant harvest, to the last nighttime gleanings just before the first freeze.
So we make, and are made.
(Click the images below to view Arwen's story of tomatoes over the course of a year)