Ink Foraging with Jane Marsching at the Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, MA

The Bounties of Nature Bring the Artist Visions of a Colorful Future

Olivia Ann Carye Hallstein

Just an hour’s drive outside of the city of Boston/Cambridge, one finds oneself amongst rolling hills of green, colonial houses and quaint farmland. This is where the Fruitland’s Museum is situated; a museum of American art emphasizing the symbiosis of nature and artistic practice on the lands of a former utopian community developed by two writers in the mid-1800s. The flowing earth meets a cluster of historic buildings surrounded by trails of forest interwoven with artworks.

Jane Marsching in her apron at the beginning of the walk

Then, meet Jane Marsching, dressed in a handmade futuristic apron of dark blue, neon green and silver with glittering trim. She stands as a proclamation toward self-sufficient, net-zero artistry in defiance of inhumane and ecologically unsound supply chains. Jane quotes the “New Eden” community of Alcott & Lane who originally founded Fruitland’s. By provoking the group of 10 gatherers who surround her toward the urgent need for future thinking during this Age of the Anthropocene, she hopes they will overcome a paralysis of growth toward a more positive and constructive future.

Ink foraging backpack with original typographical woodblocks and Solar oven cooking bark ink

Exhibited in the main hall is her backpack with invented Helvetica-based typography printing blocks, gathering vestibules and ladder. The backpack was originally meant as a communal activity to carry through the woods, no one person carrying the weight alone. She “takes folx into the forest to dream and print radical imaginings of what is possible” while leading the group on various meditative and ink-making activities. Outside of the farmhouse of Fruitland’s, she has made a solar oven to create her inks with gathered rainwater, foraged materials from the lands and an enamel pot as an open-air ink making lab.


Printed banner hangs in yellow trail and Marsching’s results of site-specific ink samples

Her inks, foraged with care, are created using materials from the landscape. They include wild grapes, sumac, barks and pokeberries. Jane reminds the group of the importance of gathering only what has fallen, the plants which are weeds, and no more than 10% of the available plant matter at one time to ensure regrowth and abundance. The large banners, which hang in various areas around the museum’s grounds read quotes from contemplative texts such as, “We are dreaming of a time when the land might give thanks to the people” and speak towards a sustainable vision of the often bleakly presented future.

Jane Marsching explains the rules of sustainable foraging

Jane insists on an ephemeral practice. By using natural inks that are light sensitive and wear in the weather they are exposed to, she emphasizes work that grows out of the relationship with time, place and humans. Her goal is to influence this particular moment rather than a moment 50 years from now.

Forest meditation under Jane Marsching hand-printed banner

Yet, as we gather together on the forest floor, amongst strangers in person for the first time in over half a year, and meditate to the sounds of chirping, birdsongs, wind passing through leaves and machine gun practice ranges, there is a resounding influence taking place. Jane guides us to listen with intention and think about a hopeful future. It is a call to creative arms, to dream larger than the boundaries that inhibit this vision; to ideate in order to activate.

Close up of yellow trail forest

The work is not ephemeral at all. Instead, the effects of existing together and reimagining the future transforms a time of challenge and turns it into an intellectual pursuit. Each moment counts to create that different future 50 years come, the trees themselves, will stand as witnesses to the choices that are made next. 

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ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

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