People of different languages have told me that on viewing my popular drawing of a corn plant, they were deeply moved by a powerful feeling of beauty, awe and understanding. This drawing has been recognized worldwide in numerous publications and now, best of all, it will be immortalized in a marble etching magnified to seven feet tall, five feet wide, as delineated by the world renowned architect and artist, Larry Kirkland. The etching will be located on a marble wall in the lobby of the new National Academy of Science-National Research Counsel (NAS-NRC) building in Washington D.C. (Fig. 1).
Some history of this drawing needs to be recorded. It illustrates the structure of the Northern Flint race of maize. It was adapted from my earlier (1957) drawing for a Christmas card that included a Pilgrim and a bushel basket of eight-rowed ears (Fig. 2). I sent a copy to Henry A. Wallace (1958), who responded "Your drawing of the Pilgrim in action in the cornfield in October of 1621 is probably the most accurate that has thus far been made." On the second page of the card, I gave the following explanation of the illustration.
Corn and the Pilgrims
"After finding a large cache of seed corn at Corn Hill, Cape Cod, the Pilgrims recorded that it was "God's good providence that we found this Corne, for else we know not how we should have done." Later prosperity came to Plymouth Colony when they learned the Indian methods for the culture and use of corn. Investigation of this plant has now become scientific, thereby helping to extend "God's good providence to all of mankind."
Later, Wallace came to Harvard's Botanical Museum because he had a special message for me. He said "Your drawings of maize are more important than the words we use to describe them. Their pictorial language cuts across all other languages in a profound and beautiful manner without need of translation."
One result of my Northern Flint-Pilgrim Christmas card to Henry Wallace was an exchange of at least seven letters, from 1958 to 1963, between him at his Farvue Farm in South Salem, New York, and me at Harvard's Botanical Museum. To those younger than myself, some explanation of who Henry Wallace was is necessary.
Henry A. Wallace (1888-1965) was probably the greatest American since Thomas Jefferson. He was able to effectively combine being a scientist, politician, author, editor, and founder of the first company to develop, produce and sell hybrid corn seeds. As a politician, he was secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1940, Vice President from 1941 to 1945 and Secretary of Commerce in 1945 and 1946. He was a leader of those creating the first green revolution by putting the more productive hybrid corn on American farms. He was a special friend not only to maize farmers and maize breeders, but to all of humanity.
I have found that not everyone understands things as pictures but just in words and so I have added captions. The first wide distribution of my drawing of the morphology of maize with captions was in a chapter that I wrote on the "Botany and Origin of Maize" in the CIBA-GEIGY Maize Monograph 1979, Editor Ernst Hafliger, pg. 9. Basel, Switzerland. It has been used in other books such as Fussel, Betty, 1992. The Story of Corn. Pub. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. NY. (pg. 61); In the CIMMYT book: Maize Seed Industries in Developing Countries 1998, Editor Michael Morris, Chap. 4, by Pandey, S. (pg. 60); In Neuffer, Coe, Wessler, Mutants of Maize 1997. (pg. 16), Pub. Cold Spring Harbor Lab. Press, Plainview, NY; On covers to books: Kiesselbach, T.A. 1999 - 50th Anniversary of: The Structure and Reproduction of Corn. Pub. Cold Spring Harbor Lab. Press. On covers or within: Proceedings (including the 1985 NE Corn Conference held in Waltham) Workshops, Newsletters: - all too numerous to mention. It has been embossed on "T" shirts (Scott Poethig, Univ. Penn, Philadelphia) and I would like to see my corn plant transferred to stained glass windows (Fig. 3).
If there is a special power of communication in my corn art-work, especially in the marble etched reproduction (7'X5') on a wall in the lobby to the new NAS-NRC building in Washington D.C. where the world's best scientist come to discuss the past and future, I am honored. Even so, I always feel sad that my illustration work falls so far short of truly expressing the gorgeous beauty and harmony that I see expressed in the phenotypes assembled under natural evolution over the millenniums, both for survival in nature and under domestication over a relatively short time for human survival. The origin, evolution and diversification of maize is especially rapid and miraculous because it is a diverse diploid that is usually outcrossed and undergoes rapid genetic recombination.
I can only optimistically hope that when scientists and politicians view my corn artwork in the new NAS-NRC building in Washington D.C., they may experience such deep emotion from its beauty and accuracy that a profound understanding will overpower their thinking with a strong dedication and determination to generate better support for both maize farmers and maize researchers.
Acknowledgment is given to the Federation
of Massachusetts Farmers' Markets for the essential computer typing by
1A black basalt stone found
in 1799 that bears an inscription in hieroglyphics, demotic characters,
and Greek and is celebrated for having given the first clue to the understanding
of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Return to the MNL 75 On-Line Index
Return to the Maize Newsletter Index
Return to the Maize Genome Database Page