A Time in Arcadia
May 19 to June 23, 2013Presented by Curious Matter & The Jersey City Free Public Library – a special collaboration featuring work by 33 contemporary artists and a bibliography of nearly 200 selections from the Main Library’s 6 Departments and 9 Branches.
“Is not thilke the mery moneth of May,
When loue lads masken in fresh aray?
How falles it then, we no merrier bene,
Ylike as others, girt in gawdy greene?
Our bloncket liueryes bene all to sadde,
For thilke same season, when all is ycladd
With pleasaunce: the grownd with grasse, the Wods
With greene leaues, the bushes with bloosming Buds.
Yougthes folke now flocken in euery where,
To gather may bus-kets and smelling brere:
And home they hasten the postes to dight,
And all the Kirke pillours eare day light,
With Hawthorne buds, and swete Eglantine,
And girlonds of roses and Sopps in wine.
Such merimake holy Saints doth queme,
But we here sytten as drownd in a dreme.”
A SHEPERD’S CALENDAR, 1579
We dream of Arcadia. Whether it’s called Eden or Shangri-la, we long for a verdant and fecund place where food comes without toil and peace fills our days. Some cultures have taken a more proactive approach to attaining this dream and set aside land to build their own Arcadias. Persian paradise gardens and the Italian Renaissance Mannerist gardens were attempts, by those with the means, to create a place separate from the dreary drudgeries of life. Extravagant fountains and statuary complemented clipped hedges and trellised vines, all surrounded by a wall to protect the sanctuary.
Not all gardens were so grand and ornamental. Medieval monastery gardens could be intimate in scale and cultivated solely for food and medicinals. The plants themselves being the most vital component. For most life on Earth, plants are the base of the food chain. Their importance is nearly absolute. Relying upon the plentiful light of the sun for survival, plants create their own food. Often they produce more than they need at any one time. These stored reserves feed the rest of life on Earth. Roots, stems, leaves, seeds and fruit are all exploited by the diversity of living things to obtain their own nourishment for survival.
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