SARAH KAVAGE

I’m a Seattle based visual artist and cultural organizer who makes art about place. 

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PAINTING & DESIGN


SARAH KAVAGE

I’m a Seattle based visual artist who makes artwork about place. 

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ABOUT
PAINTING & DESIGN

SAVANNAH ECHO

July 2021
Lehigh Gap Nature Center, Slatington PA

Assistants
Shae Faust
Mary Frank
Melissa Starkey

Community Liaison
Kiriaki Anastasiadis

Special thanks to
Adria Garcia and the staff at Lehigh Gap Nature Center

Photos

Kristi Morris, Melissa Starkey, Sarah Kavage



Grasses are integral to the story of Lehigh Gap. For most of the 20th Century, pollution from the zinc refinery across the Lehigh River completely denuded the mountain to the point that nothing (even bacteria or fungi) would grow there. The barren, rocky mountain was designated a Superfund site in the 1980s. In the early 2000s native prairie grasses were introduced to hold the pollution in the soil, stop erosion, and build soil so that other species could take hold. The grasses also created prairie habitat rarely found in the East.


The story of grasses at Lehigh Gap also goes back much, much further. The title of the piece refers to the savannah at the top of the mountain that the Lenape maintained by controlled burning for thousands of years. Despite colonization and all that damage from pollution, IT IS STILL THERE.

By closely observing as we worked, this site taught me about grassland ecology first hand. After all the years of doing this work, I realized that under all that grass, those layers of decay are soil being born!! This humble, persistent labor of the grass has yielded just 1 INCH of new topsoil since 2002, but that has been enough to give birth to an entire forest.


 
Friend and collaborator Adria Garcia mentioned to me years ago that Hawai’i (the Big Island) felt hopeful to her, because the land there is still being created. I had the same feeling seeing that precious topsoil peek out from beneath the grass. To be honest I don’t hold too much hope for the fate of humans on this planet, but this landscape helps me find faith that life will endure. 

As folk singer Malvina Reynolds said:
“God bless the grass
It grows through the cracks.
They roll the concrete over it and try to keep it back.
The concrete gets tired
Of what it has to do
It bends, and it buckles and the grass grows through.”

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