take me to the apple breeder

Jessica Rath. Kazakhstan Elite. 3.5” x 2.5” x 3” (each), high-fire glazed porcelain

September 1 - November 26, 2017


Artwork by Jessica Rath.

porcelain sculptures based on the living collection of apples at Cornell University’s Plant Genetics Resource Unit

large-scale photographs of the diverse tree architecture from the tandem experimental agriculture station

El Dorado County residents are no strangers to apple farming. With Apple Hill and apple picking season, cider tasting, doughnut sampling and pies for sale, apple culture is a familiar fall experience. Unknown to some, though, is the actual process of grafting by which an apple is produced. Intersecting art, agriculture, and science, renowned Los Angeles-based artist Jessica Rath explores that very process in take me to the apple breeder, the new exhibition opening September 1, 2017, presented by El Dorado Arts Council at the Fausel House Gallery.


Intrigued by Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World, Rath visited the Plant Genetics Resource Unit (PGRU) in Geneva, New York, a joint USDA/Cornell University project, in order to better understand the process of grafting, necessary to maintain a vast living collection of edible apples. Ceramic sculptures of several varieties found at PGRU were made during her first visit. She mimicked the size and shape of each chosen varietal while mixing and matching high fire glazes to allude to the hues representative of each piece.


Returning in 2011, she photographed genetic diversity at the Cornell University-NYS Agricultural Experiment Station. Professional photographers Ken Marchionno and Mary Wingfield were recruited to assist her in capturing the “sister” trees planted by apple breeder Dr. Susan K. Brown. Dr. Brown utilized thousands of seeds from a crossbreeding of two apple varieties. These trees will mature, unpruned, for seven to eight years before Brown will choose one apple from the entire orchard to call a new variety. Rath shot the trees in the winter against large white muslin backdrops to catch the beautiful, leafless silhouettes and the sensuous detail of their skin.


Rath’s practice considers how we shape the aesthetics of agricultural production and of our immediate landscape. She attained her Master of Fine Arts from California Institute for the Arts (CalArts) in 1996 and also studied at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, and received a BA in Sociology from University of Missouri, Columbia. She is the recipient of a 2014 California Community Foundation Mid-Career Fellowship, 2013 City of Los Angeles (COLA) Fellowship, and a Center for Cultural Innovation Artistic Innovation grant, among others. She shows with Jack Hanley Gallery, New York and her working process is archived at the Center for Art and Environment Archive Collections at the Nevada Museum of Art.