I’ve decided to open my presentation at the SSML conference with Curry’s Osage orange painting. The Osage orange bush is featured in several of Curry’s paintings and he chose it as the design for his textile for Russell Wright’s American Way design program. Osage orange is a bush that was used for hedgerows before barbed wire was available. It was also used as wind blocks in the WPA’s soil erosion control program.
The image is relevant because it ties Curry’s connection to the Midwestern pastoral tradition with the mission of the University of Wisconsin. Osage orange was first championed as hedgerow material by Jonathan Baldwin Turner. Turner was a professor at Illinois University who advocated for the Morrill Act which created the land grant university system.
The land grand universities were created to spur agricultural research. The University of Wisconsin was the designated land grant university for the state of Wisconsin, and it has a long tradition of agricultural innovation. When Curry was brought to the University as artist in residence, he was invited by the College of Agriculture.
The Osage orange image allows us to consider Curry’s place within the Midwestern pastoral tradition and the significance of his time at the University of Wisconsin.