A symbolic Zia New Mexico garden (click to enlarge)


There is no mistaking this garden for big agribusiness. It is designed around the the shape of a traditional Zia Pueblo sun symbol, the same one that appears on the New Mexico flag. Actually, it only exists in the imagination.

The garden is still a concept, symbolic of the interdependence of nature and human culture. If it is ever built, it will feature a meticulously thought out display of traditional and modern New Mexico crops arranged according to nutritional content, and cultural importance–like the “Three Sisters,” corn, beans, and squash planted in the central spiral.

I got the client’s sketch for this piece from Peter Warshall, who was working with the Bioneers Collaborative Initiative, a group of pragmatic yet visionary planners. The painting would be for the cover of their report, “Dreaming New Mexico.”

I hesitated to take it on for a few days. I thought it would be impossible to paint. Maybe it should have been a map. There was so much scientific detail that it seemed at first to require a boring and textbook-like diagram of some kind with symbolic pattern fills, if the viewer was going to be able to identify the plants in each bed. Yet the whole purpose was to make the abstract idea seem real and appealing to the imagination, even to the taste buds! It was to be a garden that one would like to think about: food for thought.

My client’s original intent was to visualize the hypothetical garden in a realistic way. It was certainly not anything that a photograph could convey. They wanted a painting. So I decided to try to give them one: a digital painting.

As it turned out, a little bit of scale exaggeration and idealizing of the plants made this work on its own as a painting. They decided, in the end, not to even violate the painting with little numbers and a key. I created a black and white line diagram of the mandala shaped beds and labeled each plant species there. This map was included inside the cover.

“Looks wonderful, ” was the email reply to my first color proof.

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