Exploring the apple as an aesthetic and cultural object
The Yellow Bellflower is an apple variety with a long history in the Southland.
Before the city of Bellflower was founded, there was an apple orchard in what is now the north side of town; many of the trees bore Yellow Bellflowers.
A glazed porcelain cast of that apple is now on display at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. It appears alongside similar sculptures and a series of apple-tree “portraits” by L.A.-based artist Jessica Rath.
The Yellow Bellflower’s regional roots didn’t figure in Rath’s decision to sculpt the fruit. Rather, something about the Bellflower’s particular top-heaviness drew her to the variety. She picked it and eight others as subjects for her show, Take Me to the Apple Breeder, after examining hundreds of varieties at the Plant Genetics Resources Unit, a research orchard at Cornell University's Geneva, New York campus.
Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire led her to the orchard. In that book, Pollan reveals that the apples we know are more products of culture than of nature; varieties only survive if their qualities seduce humans into cloning them.
Rath made her selections based on aesthetics, imagining what color and shape of apple would compel her to graft the parent tree over and over again--an approach we find seductive in its own right.
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