Christina Kelly might be the corniest artist in Brooklyn.
The Carroll Gardens resident will soon plant corn in Boerum Hill, part of an art project called “Maize Field” that examines the borough’s agrarian past and offers a living meditation on the idea of change.
“It’s interesting how much things have changed in kind of a short period of time without leaving any trace,” she said. “It’s a very New York thing to talk about how your neighborhood has changed — but there has always been change. If you think about the things you’ve lost, maybe you’ll pay attention to things you want to preserve.”
To decide on where to plant, Kelly relied on archival maps showing Indian paths and planting grounds throughout the borough.
Along with corn, she’ll be planting beans and squash, the so-called “three sisters,” a trio of vegetables that enjoy a symbiotic relationship in the soil. The corn provides a natural pole for the beans to climb, beans fix nitrogen in a form that is needed by corn to grow, and squash vines help keep the soil moist, improving growing conditions for the entire trio.
“The idea was to plant varieties of crops that were grown in this area for a long time,” she said. While corn is technically not native to the area, it was cultivated by different Native American tribes that once thrived here.
The vegetables will be planted on May 24-25 and take root on a raised garden on the sidewalk at Smith and Bergen Streets.
“I just hope people will take care of the them,” Kelly said. “Don’t step on them or pull on the plants. Besides, it’s fun to watch corn grow.”
The seeds come from an Ohio cultivator who collects rare heirloom plants. The corn is blue flour corn — not the kind you eat from the cob — traditionally ground for flour. The same seeds were used by the Lenape tribe, who once had settlements in what is now Gowanus, Sheepshead Bay, Flatlands, and Canarsie.
Residents are eager to see the vegetables that are the fruit of Kelly’s labor.
“This will be a nice installation on an otherwise drab corner,” said Howard Kolins, the president of the Boerum Hill Association, which is sponsoring the project, with cash from the Department of Transportation’s Urban Art program.
“It will be exactly what art is supposed to do: challenge you and give you an unexpected perspective. Here’s a cornfield reminding us what was here centuries ago, and lost.”