HACKENSACK, Minn. — Linda Paulsen is a seed saver.
Shelves in her Hackensack home are lined with bottles of seeds and plant materials. Soybeans, alfalfa and corn seeds are just a few in her vast collection.
Paulsen "plants" them on sketches and transforms them into art.
She enters her artwork in the Minnesota State Fair’s crop art division displayed in the horticulture building. She also will discuss the art form daily from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the crop art area and on Saturdays at 11 a.m. at "The Dirt."
Paulsen's mother, Lillian Coulton, was dubbed the "seed queen" by author Colleen Sheehy. Paulsen talks fondly about her mother’s love of the art and how she deftly used seeds to create pieces that earned Coulton numerous state fair awards.
Paulsen mentioned the new state fair art division to her mother back in 1965. The fair added it to educate people on seeds used to grow crops and plants. Coulton didn’t exhibit that first year. Instead, she went to the fair from the family’s Owatonna home to view the crop art.
Coulton was an avid artist. She sketched, painted using oils and watercolors, made ceramics, did needle work and was a sewer, Paulsen said.
Coulton would start with a sketch and then apply seeds using a toothpick dipped in Elmer’s Glue. That was the first tip she gave to her daughter.
"I just get an itch in my fingers to do this," Paulsen said. "I enjoy it so much. I would be doing some other type of handwork otherwise, but it’s been so much fun to do this and, seeing my mother’s enthusiasm, has inspired me in my own work."
Coulton could complete a picture in five days. Paulsen takes a bit longer, usually finishing a picture in a few weeks.
Paulsen’s skills can be seen in a portrait of Dolly Parton. While the seeds define the contours of Parton’s face, corn husks give realistic texture to Parton’s hair. Placement of colored seeds gives intricate detail to a plaid pattern in a scarf on another.
Coulton felt it just wasn’t right for her to keep winning awards, Paulsen said. She mentioned it to the crop art supervisor, who then asked Coulton to demonstrate the art during the fair.
While her mother demonstrated, Paulsen worked with youngsters to create their own crop art.
Coulton completed more than 200 pictures over her lifetime. Her last state fair appearance was just weeks before her 95th birthday. She died in 2007.
The torch has been passed to Paulsen.
Paulsen won 10 trophies and two reserve champions at the fair, she said. Some parts of the picture, like background or eyes, can be painted, but everything else has to be seeds or plant materials grown in Minnesota. She doesn't apply small individual seeds when they cover a portion of a picture, she said. Instead, she makes an outline of the area with glue. When it hardens, she brushes the area with glue and puts a bunch of the small seeds on it, pushing it in place with a spoon. A finishing spray is applied.
Getting seed is a challenge, she said. Paulsen purchased seed in bulk from a garden store. Now she relies on her own collection and her mother’s supply along with seed she purchased through crop art stores.