Experimenting with Seaweed Art

Back in the summer I was finally able to visit my mom, after nearly two years of pandemic travel restrictions. To make myself useful, I helped her tidy up my father’s home office. His study remained mostly untouched in the two and a half years he’s been gone, and we had much to do. There, buried in one of the piles, we found a little cardboard box filled with hand-sized cards (around 2″ x 3″ each). It turned out to be his first pressed seaweed collection, one he gathered between 1959-1961, long before he met my mom.

My father, Dr. Yaacov Lipkin, was a marine biologist. During the many decades he worked at Tel Aviv University, he created, among other things, the largest algae and seaweed collection in the Levant. On numerous research outings to the Mediterranean coast of Israel and the Red Sea of the Sinai Peninsula, he painstakingly gathered, dried, and preserved many marine (as well as fresh water) plants. His large collection is now a part of the permanent collection of the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

The little cardboard box my mom and I found, however, was not important enough for him to donate. It was his first collection, gathered when he was still a student. Here, my father dried one small algae on one side of each of the hand-sized cards: 

On the back, he wrote the name of the seaweed, the place he collected it and the date (he found this phaeophyta, for example, in Tel Baruch beach, in May 1959).

When we found it, the little collection was in pretty bad shape. Many of the plants fell off their cards and crumbled. The writing on the back remained clear on the cards on which my father wrote in pen or in his signature green ink. It is a lot less clear, sometimes completely illegible, on those on which he scribbled in pencil.

A Collaboration

Growing up, I often saw my father press his algae to dry, and sometimes even helped him. When I was in arts high school, he asked me to draw some seaweeds for an article, and I did, but never thought much of it. It has been many years since I saw his dry collection. When I came across these little cards, therefore, they were both very familiar, and also new. Looking at them now with fresh eyes, I realized how delicate and beautiful some of these plants were. An idea formed. I took pictures of the specimens I liked best, those that were still well preserved. Then I went back home.

Months passed. I worked on other projects. Blue Planet Blues reminded me of the algae pictures. Some more time went by. Finally, I sat at my computer and started playing with the pictures. I fell into the deep time-sink hole of digital manipulation. Oh, the possibilities!

I cropped, sharpened, ran through filters. The drab, brown seaweeds on their yellowing paper popped into life.

I printed a few, first on paper, then on fabric. Sadly, the vibrant colors didn’t turn out quite right when I printed them on the printer-ready fabric. They came out washed out and faded… Still, I started experimenting.

I usually don’t mix very thin fabric (like the fabric-for-printers I used here) with upholstery fabric. But this was just an experiment, so I tried it anyway. When I was happy with my fabric choices, I sewed compositions together.

I quilted them.

The printed fabric was a thin cotton. When I free-motion quilted it, it scrunched, as cotton tends to do when heavily stitched. To counter that, I had to heavily stitch the home décor fabrics around it, too, something I don’t usually do.

Then I added some hand stitching, as a finishing touch.

There are three small, 15″ x 19″ pieces in this experimental seaweed art series.

These small seaweed art collages feels like a collaboration between me and my dad, and I like the results.

But I’m not quite done with seaweed art yet…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *