La Cresta: A Land-Sculpting Installation by Syd Carpenter and Steve Donegan


About the Exhibition

As part of Woodmere’s ongoing commitment to immersing art in nature, the Museum collaborated with Philadelphia artists Syd Carpenter and Steve Donegan for La Cresta. The land-sculpting installation takes inspiration from the horticultural practice of hügelkulture. Visually, La Cresta is comprised of two large organic mounds designed by the artists and inspired in part by the forms of sprouting seed pods. It is a work of art that blurs the line between creativity and horticultural practice.

The goal of hügelkulture, a practice associated with the northern-most societies of ancient Europe, is to create fertile planting and farming areas by creating mounds of earth built over layers of decaying wood and other organic materials. Mature trees from across Woodmere’s property, either damaged by storms or at the end of their lifecycle, have been given a new purpose. The logs and branches are now at the heart of the “hügels,” and as the wood decays it will provide nutrients to the soil, encourage healthy soil ecology and sustain microorganisms that are essential to the health of the ecosystem. Since the process of decomposition generates heat, the hügels extend the growing season.

Syd Carpenter, sculptor and Professor of Art and the Peggy Chan Professorship in Black Studies at Swarthmore College, and artist Steve Donegan titled the hügels La Cresta, meaning “ridge” in Spanish, and referring to the ridge-like backbone of the mound shapes they sculpted. La Cresta is also a reference to nearby Ridge Avenue, one of the longest streets in Philadelphia and a Lenape byway that was established before the arrival of European settlers in the area in the 1600s.

Woodmere Art Museum collaborated with Montreal’s The Stewart Program for Modern Design on a short film entitled Syd Carpenter: Places of Our Own. The video, which focuses on an interview of Syd Carpenter in her studio, includes footage of La Cresta, along with her garden, which is a source of her creative inspiration. Carpenter discusses her series of farm-themed ceramic bowls, which convey the history of African American stewardship of the land. The series is the result of Carpenter’s extensive research - visiting farmsteads in the South owned by African American farmers and learning about the multi-generational history of each farm. Her meticulously detailed ceramic bowls feature farm crops, eggs, and vernacular forms such as sheds, tools, and fences, often on surfaces representing plowed farmland. Each bowl is named for an African American farmer, honoring them as individuals who would otherwise be forgotten by history.

View Syd Carpenter: Places of Our Own here.

La Cresta was featured in Fine Gardening magazine. Read the article here

La Cresta is featured in an episode of Woodmere's podcast, Diving Board. To subscribe and listen, click here.

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