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Jennifer Piurek
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, October 5, 2010

SoFA Gallery's 'Tending a Difficult Hope' includes free hands-on workshops on sustainable food

Oct. 5, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A new exhibit opening Oct. 22 at Indiana University's School of Fine Arts Gallery examines one woman's journey toward self-sufficiency through sustainable food.


Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Artist Leah Gauthier's "Tending a Difficult Hope" project features herbs and sustainable food as art.

Print-Quality Photo

Artist Leah Gauthier's "Tending a Difficult Hope" features both SoFA Gallery installations and a series of free, public workshops that she hopes inspire others to make more sustainable life choices.

A free, open-to-the-public reception is scheduled for Oct. 22 from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. at SoFA Gallery, where Gauthier will also present a gallery talk Friday, Oct. 29, at noon.

Gauthier said that at the project's core is the theme of survival.

"'We, the people' don't do a lot of taking care of ourselves," she said, using the language from the U.S. Constitution's preamble. "We often don't cook our own food, grow our own food, make our own clothes, build our own houses -- we rely on industry to take care of most of our needs. But with global warming, increasing oil scarcity and climate change, a lot of us will be called upon to do more of that in our lives."


Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Leah Gauthier tends to the heirloom vegetables she's growing as part of her School of Fine Arts Gallery exhibition. The vegetables will be used in cooking demonstrations and workshops that take place in connection with the exhibit.

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The gallery component of "Difficult Hope" features live herb plants, canned fruits and vegetables, dried spices and teas and herbal oils and vinegars that Gauthier prepared over the summer using local and home grown foods. The display will be complemented by a gathering area of long, communal tables and a makeshift kitchen that Gauthier will use for cooking and demonstrations at the workshops, which touch on topics ranging from raw food to growing herbs.

"Tending a Difficult Hope" is sponsored by Themester 2010, "sustain•ability: Thriving on a Small Planet," a program of IU's College of Arts and Sciences. The exhibit and related activities continue through Nov. 19.

Throughout the exhibition, Gauthier plans to learn such skills as how to preserve food or operate a solar oven along with attendees of the "Difficult Hope" workshops. She got a jump-start on canning food about a month ago, and since June has been growing an heirloom vegetable garden-as-art at Bryan House on campus. "Some of these vegetables are near extinct," she said. "Part of my work will be harvesting these peppers, tomatoes, peas and fall greens during the gallery installation."

The heirloom vegetables are planted in vessels made of industrial materials (plastic mesh and bronze-and-brass metal fabric with window-screen piping). "If I had just planted a regular garden with no sculptural elements, folks would look at it and feel that they know everything there is to know about those plants. These are very special plants -- you wouldn't see them at the grocery store -- so the sculpture is a bigger enticement to go over and see them."


Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Gauthier is growing heirloom vegetables in structures she created from man-made materials. The vegetables will be moved from outside of Wells House into the School of Fine Arts Gallery Oct. 22 for the opening of her exhibit.

Print-Quality Photo

The workshops are all child-friendly, Gauthier said. "Kids are natural cooks. They love to get their hands into things. And students in the dorm rooms a lot of times are looking for ways to supplement their meals. Even the smallest bit of success -- like growing basil on the windowsill if you've never grown herbs before -- can inspire lots of confidence."

Gauthier draws inspiration from environmentalist-authors Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben and Cormac McCarthy. Just as their work inspires hers, she hopes seeing the sculpture garden, attending the workshops and viewing the SoFA Gallery installation can draw people's attention to the topic of sustainable food production. "Vegetable farming is usually seen as unsightly, something that can't be beautiful. What I'm trying to do is suggest that food can be very beautiful. You can plant lettuce in the same places you plant flowers; there's no reason for them to be separated."

Tending a Difficult Hope workshops

  • Herbs (planting, vinegars, oils and teas): Wednesday, Oct. 27, 5 p.m.-7 p.m.
  • Canning (held at Bloomington Cooking School, 115 N. College Ave., Suite 014): Saturday, Oct. 30 (time TBA)
  • Food Preservation (canning, drying, pickling and root cellars): Wednesday, Nov. 3, noon
  • DIY Cookers (smokers & solar ovens): Wednesday, Nov. 10, noon
  • In the Raw (raw food recipes): Wednesday, Nov. 17, 12 noon

All "Tending a Difficult Hope" workshops are free and open to the public, but seating is limited, so advance reservations are required. Unless otherwise indicated, all will take place at IU's SOFA Gallery (1201 E. 7th St.). To RSVP, please call the gallery at 812-845-8490, or e-mail indicating which workshop you would like to attend.