Mural at Longspell Point Farm in Nova Scotia

NSCAD University professor and internationally exhibiting American artist Ericka Walker spent the month of May painting a Nova Scotia barn over with contemporary art. Her vivid mural—itself about farming—is one of 17 outdoor public artworks installed on woodsy hiking trails, rocky beaches and other sites for the 11th edition of Uncommon Common Art, an annual cultural event that takes place in rural Kings County and surrounding areas.

The region where Uncommon Common Art happens has a history of farming, fishing and the displacement of two peoples—the Mi’kmaq and the Acadians. Some of these themes are reflected in the work on view. Walker, for her part, connects to the history of agriculture in her mural, a giant “paint-by-numbers” created at a Kingsport farm with three NSCAD University graduates.

“The ground we are on would have been much higher had we been here in 1920,” Walker tells me. That’s because when John Deere invented the steel plough in 1837, he revolutionized agriculture—but also created a machine destructive to topsoil. So Walker’s mural, inspired by late 19th- to mid-20th century ads on farm and industrial buildings, features the sensually painted innards of a no-till planting machine and soil-enriching plants. It’s accompanied by the text “Be Industrious That You May Live,” a slogan adopted in 1906 by the Kings County Agricultural Society.

The daughter of a Wisconsin high-school agriculture teacher, Walker got the idea for the mural from talking to Longspell Point Farm’s co-owners Jeff and Paula McMahon, who served the painters lunch every day. “There’s a prediction out there that if we don’t change the way we farm, there are only 60 years of harvests left,” Walker says. “Soil conservation doesn’t get a lot of press. It’s not sexy.” She is talking about environmental problems and the survival of the human race. But the angle is a hopeful one for Walker: “It’s industriousness that can and will change the way we treat the land and grow our food,” she believes.

In 2016, Walker painted her first barn for Uncommon Common Art at Taproot Farm, and enjoyed the conversations with strangers who stopped to ask, “What does it mean?” It led to interesting dialogues: “I said, ‘A lot of us contemporary artists are trying to create a scenario where you can create your own meaning,’” Walker says. “A lot of people gave it a shot, and there were very wonderful and very varied answers.”


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