I’m an artist. I’m a scientist. And I’ve married my love of both art and science by creating paintings made entirely of pigments derived from soil.
I discovered and honed this technique of mixing various dried soils with a gesso binder while working on the senior thesis to complete my B.A. in Visual Arts.
In addition to painting on commission in my studio in Ithaca, N.Y., I organize community events where I use soil painting as a vehicle to inspire participants to not only celebrate the beauty of soil, but to also think about soil as an essential natural resource — as important to our quality of life as clean air and water. We depend on healthy soil to provide us with food and fiber, and we can use soil to store carbon to fight climate change.
My first community mural event celebrating World Soil Day at Cornell University in 2015 inspired the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN) to organize a global soil painting contest in 2017. Our entry, Three Sisters in Soil, won first place in the university category. It hangs in the entrance to Bradfield Hall on the Cornell campus.
I am currently an MS student in the Department of Natural Resources, at Cornell University, focusing on quantifying the health of undisturbed prairie soils so we can learn how to heal abused grasslands. I also manage Cornell’s Soil Health Lab, a worldwide leader in assessing the many aspects of soil health.
Soil Painting interview with Summer Rayne Oakes:
Interview about the Cornell Soil Health Lab with Summer Rayne Oakes for her show, Plant One on Me: