April 23, 2013

The Scientist: Prof. Marcia Eames-Sheavly Teaches Art Through Horticulture

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Horticulture students eyed the pile of dirt hesitantly. Were they really going to turn this into a couch? Despite their reservations, after three hours of shoveling and hard work, students were sitting on the newly constructed sod sofa on the agriculture quad under warm sunlight and blue sky.

This project, constructed by the class Horticulture 2010: Art of Horticulture, is one of the many ways in which Prof. Marcia Eames-Sheavly, horticulture, aims to use interaction with plants to help students engage in their creative process.

Although she does not conduct scientific research, her passion lies in helping students use plants as a source of self-expression through a focus on teaching and outreach.

“What I’m really interested in is how students engage in the creative process and the ultimate impact on their well-being,” Eames-Sheavly said. “As you can imagine, someone is working with plants and they’re doing something they [may have] never done before – often they can feel really good.”

The huge impact of the plant world on human life inspired Eames-Sheavly to incorporate art into horticulture as a medium for self-expression and development.

“We really rely on plants for absolutely everything – every single thing, from our food and clothing, to shelter, and sometimes people forget that,” Eames-Sheavly said. “Reconnecting students with the plant world and discovering the myriad ways from food to art to teaching other people to engage with plants and gardens … there’s a lot there.”

She began her career in Cooperative Extension before moving back to Cornell; her current leadership position with Cornell Garden-Based Learning focuses on children and youth garden education.

Eames-Sheavly is also a watercolor artist. She incorporated her passion for the plant world and the art world into developing the “Art of Horticulture” university course that connects these two subjects.

“You talk about horticulture being the art and science of cultivating plants, and it occurred to me that we didn’t really have a course that focused on the arts,” Eames-Sheavly said. “What I really enjoy about [horticulture] is that it’s not just drawing or painting, it’s also the full expression of the ways in which plants can be used to creatively inspire our lives.”

In the hands-on classroom experience taught by Eames-Sheavly, students explore plants as a subject and as a form of art. Eames-Sheavly said she hopes that students can “grab onto some kernel that impacts them for the rest of their lives,” regardless of whether that impact is in horticulture or not.

By choosing to make a concrete leaf, students may discover a passion for working with concrete. Through the written reflection process used in her class, they may fall in love with writing. Regardless, finding an activity that inspires passion may ultimately result in a lifelong participation, demonstrating the powerful learning component of horticulture.

In addition to teaching, Eames-Sheavly also works in outreach through a garden-based learning program. She works with educators, such as teachers growing school gardens or community members who want to begin community gardens. Through such interactions, she and her outreach team have developed a number of educational resources, and they have spoken nationally about their work.

Gardens and plants can not only help inspire a long-term participation, they can also help people reconnect with their lives and with the plant world.

“We’re beginning to raise people indoors,” Eames-Sheavly said. “There are just so many concerns affiliated with that. But when we think about the most pressing issues of our time, such as fighting obesity, food safety, sustainable energy – all of that can begin literally in your backyard, as you start a garden and become more and more involved in the environment.”

Original Author: Camille Wang