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Grace Dodge Hall 3rd Floor, Stairwell Landing

Marion Wilson &Cathy Lebowitz

A Great Piece of Biomass (from Albrecht Durer’s The Great Piece of Turf, 1503), 2018

A Planter, soils and seeds

Sharing an interest in overlooked plants, Marion Wilson and Cathy Lebowitz met for the past several years in a community garden in the East Village that was revitalized from rubble in the 1970s by neighborhood residents. Unleashing seemed the perfect opportunity to shine light on the types of grasses, flowers, and other plants that grow in untended areas like urban lots and along roadways. What some call weeds and take pains to eradicate can actually be turned into new soil. These plants are useful biomass, and many, including those depicted in Durer’s watercolor The Great Piece of Turf (hanging next to the planter for reference), have nutritional and medicinal properties. Dandelions, for instance, have Vitamin C, potassium, and calcium, and are cleansing to the liver. Wild comfrey contains a substance that helps new skin cells grow, and yarrow benefits a host of ailments. The broad leaves of the greater plantain are not only edible—full of calcium, iron and vitamins—but also have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties when used topically.


This planter sets up a situation of creating life from art.  In this approximately 15-by-12-inch watercolor from 1503, Durer captured the “weeds” so precisely that botanists have identified them. You are invited to reconstruct Durer’s piece of turf using plants foraged from the neighborhood surrounding Columbia University. In the coming months, as the weather warms, many of them will be emerging and can be dug up and replanted here.

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