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Cow art, nature soundscapes, rare plants the focus at Seed Savers

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 05/28/2013 8:04 AM

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DECORAH, Iowa — Valerie Miller got involved with Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah through her interest in food, specifically tomatoes. She and her husband, Josh, donate a portion of the profits from the sale of the Ancient White Park paintings and merchandise to Seed Savers Exchange.

"Seed Savers is doing amazing things promoting genetic diversity, and I want to help in any way that I can," she said.

Grassfed consists of 15 jumbo cow prints of Diane, Molly, Lina and 12 "of their closest bovine friends."

A print of Vera is in the pasture with the live Ancient White Parks. On a recent morning, two calves slept under the painting, and cows rested nearby. Other prints are tucked in hills and valleys near Seed Savers' trails.

To celebrate the exhibit's opening, Miller, Josh and their baby son, Eddie, were on hand to meet visitors. Miller invited children to help paint a mural of Lina. She guided the youngsters as they worked on the towering cow portrait.

Talking Trees, Joyce and Sollberger's sound installation, winds along the valley trail as well.

Four metal tripods feature nature sounds recorded last year at Seed Savers combined with music created by Joyce and Sollberger. Water, birds, frogs and insects are featured. The work was funded by a grant form the Iowa Arts Council. Kelly Ludeking created the structural design and Bruce Larson, Dennis Pottratz and Steve Smith provided technical assistance.

Joyce and Sollberger said their goal is to give visitors a sensory experience "that complements rather than overwhelms the natural soundscape."

Mary Gauder Hungarian sweet peppers, Jump peas, Kerala red amaranth, nearly black Revolution-Evolution lettuce and Tiny Tim yellow tomatoes were among the rare varieties that were part of the preservation plant sale.

"This is the first year we've done this," said Shannon Carmody, Seed Savers public programs manager. "We chose seed varieties from the SSE seed bank that are not normally available to customers. If people like these varieties, they'll have to learn how to save seed."

Ott Whealy said it's an honor to have one of Miller's cows named after her.

"I love cows," Ott Whealy said. "I grew up on a dairy farm, and we had Holstein cows."

Gabriel and Annora Lewerke of Clear Lake took a turn painting the Lina mural while their dad, Todd, looked on. They came to Seed Savers to escape the 12 inches of snow that fell two days earlier.

"I wanted to buy some of the black lettuce," said Todd, who owns Growing Room Aquaponics. "I save and collect seeds."

Grassfed and Talking Trees will be displayed at Seed Savers Exchange through May. Maps and more information are available at the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center.

The sound art installation runs daily from 9 a.m to 7 p.m. Joyce invites visitors to share their thoughts by writing in the notebook outside the visitors center or by visiting and clicking on "Talking Trees."

To find out about Miller and Steel Cow Gallery visit or on Facebook at

To learn more about Seed Savers Exchange visit