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Fall Foliage for a Spring Show

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Tulip leaf print
(Jessica Baker)
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MULTIMEDIA SLIDESHOW: Hear Jessica Baker describe how she creates her art, and see some of the works on display

"Watch out for the horse doody..."

It's springtime in Brooklyn, and artist Jessica Baker and I are taking a walk in Prospect Park. She's keeping her eyes on the ground because that's where she normally looks for inspiration. Baker, a print maker, creates her work on freshly fallen leaves. For her, hitting the park is sort of like going to an art supply store -- except everything she needs is free.

With all the raking, bagging and lugging around, some people might find leaves a nuisance. But Baker says she loves leaves: "For me, it was like a party, you know my birthday, look at all these leaves all over the place."

She did most of her collecting on rainy fall days when the most leaves seem to hit the ground. "I would come out with my umbrella and my plastic bags... I looked kind of funny."

She enjoyed the process of collecting, but only had a small window of time to bag up the leaves and get them back to her studio -- "probably had maybe four or five days to do it before they weren't usable any more, and then I'd have to go back out and find some more. So it was almost a race with time."

As soon as she got back, Baker would have to perform "moisture control" on the leaves, spritzing them with water to prevent them from drying out and crumbling. And when it was time to print, she had to get them wetter -- but not too wet. She'd soak them, then blot. The leaves needed to be damp, but not too much. Not only was it unusual, it was a very precise process. "Most print makers were baffled. They were like, 'What are you doing, printing on leaves?'"

This is how Baker's process works: She etches a drawing into a metal plate with acid, and puts some colored ink on it. The ink then sinks into the carved-out areas. When she puts a leaf on the plate and presses really hard, out comes a print on the leaf -- or at least, that's what she hopes for.

"The amazing thing about making prints is that no matter how much you have this vision of what the print is going to look like when you roll it through the press, the great moment is the reveal," she says. "Where you pick up the paper and you look down and you're like 'OK, what happened? What does it look like?"

At the Audubon Center at Prospect Park, we're finally able to find out -- her prints have made it through the fall, and she's having a solo show. There are a lot of different trees in the park, and it feels like she's used leaves from every one. "There are ginkgo leaves on there, there are actually some small maple leaves, there are Japanese maple leaves on there..."

Hanging together, the pieces look like a kaleidoscope of reds, golds and greens. Some of the leaves are displayed in big bunches on the wall. Some are upside-down, brown and veiny like sleeping bats.

When you take a closer look at the leaves, you see etchings of concentric circles -- a metaphor for the changing seasons.

"I'm sure inside me there was an impulse to make an imprint on nature -- to sort of make this statement 'I was here, I exist.' I think probably I felt like Mother Nature in a way. I had control over it. I was the hand. It's kind of like I've come full circle, because this whole process started in the fall and now it's spring and the leaves are coming back out... And I don't know, there's something really completing about this."

Baker's process of drying and pressing the leaves actually helps to preserve them. She doesn't know how long they'll last, but she's hoping to hang on to fall as long as she can.

Baker's work will be on exhibit through May 26 in New York City's Prospect Park.

  • Music Bridge:
    Too High to Move
    Artist: Quiet Village
    CD: Silent Movie (!k7)


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  • By vivian simpson

    From laurens, SC, 10/09/2008

    can someone please help me .Im looking for a tree that grows in the south carolina that leaves look like a upside down umbrella

    By Charles Mangarelli

    From New York, NY, 05/03/2008

    As Morning America does not air in NYC, I was very glad that a friend in NJ told me about this segment. I am an avid nature and art lover and Ms. Baker has brought the two of them together beautifully. I was also delighted to see so much variety and simplicity at other work she has posted on her website. I will certainly be going to Prospect Park to see Leaf and Circle in person. I wouldn't have known about it if you hadn't done a story on it. Thanks so much for that.

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