Corn Woman, Video and Transcript

Watch this interview with Savageau as she describes the story and process behind Corn Woman.


>> CHERYL SAVAGEAU: Corn Woman’s an interesting figure for me because she does bring together a few different threads and one of course is our story of Corn Woman, our first woman, who was born from the dew on a green light leaf in the early morning as the sunlight hits it. And I thought about that since we have these fragments, you know. The scientist in me of course comes out and I realize this is the moment of photosynthesis. I mean, this is the moment you know when the sun gets the water on a green leaf. That’s when it happens. And I know that the ancestors didn’t know about carbon dioxide but they knew enough to know that everything comes from the green plants. When I think of her I always think of her kind of leaping forward into life. You know, like from the green world. And so she is you know both first woman and Corn Woman, so she is the beginning of it all and the nurturer. So I have this story and then I had read Awiakta’s book on Selu, which is the Cherokee Corn Mother stories. And in that story, her grandchildren are starving, and she actually runs her hands up her belly to her breasts and from her breast falls all this corn that she fills baskets with. So literally from her breasts comes the corn. So that was the image I think when I started creating the assemblage was exactly that. But in terms of how it came about is kind of interesting because it’s built on what used to be a wooden sweater frame which is how they dried sweaters back in my grandmother’s time, and I happened to see one in a shop and I remembered, you know from my childhood, and I was like, “Oh I really need to have that.” So I came home, put it on the table, and a group of us had been making gourds, you know grown on the land, and someone had cut the top off a gourd and wasn’t going to use it and said, “oh give it to Cheryl.” So I took it home and just put it on that because it was the nearest thing, and when I came back I realized it was a breast. So that’s when I began building her from the land. So there’s the gourd and then there’s a starfish which is her other breast and then of course the whole headdress is corn. And I happen to have one of those old copper corn, what do you call them? It’s like a form you do cornbread in.


>>CHERYL SAVAGEAU: Yeah, hanging in my kitchen. And I went into the kitchen at one point and went “oh,” and so that became her face. And so you know that’s kind of how it proceeded. I had an old sweetgrass basket and so the–you know with the story the breasts, of course, and the corn–I just wanted to have that spray of corn you know going down into that basket, so I did that with beads. And then other little parts that came into that–well you remember this–we had gone north to Norridgewock, we were collecting some pine bark that had fallen in the ground that was so beautiful, and when I was building the assemblage it was you know part of the things that were around me and I was like, “That’s perfect. That belongs here.” There’s a little corn that’s woven like a basket that Judy Dow made. I feel like there was community involved as well, you know, the the gourd coming from Lisa the you know all of these different things, coming from like a women’s community but also coming from the land. So it’s a very important piece to me that way. I think the other thing is, you know, I had written a poem that was basically about breastfeeding, and that feeling of abundance that women have that men are sometimes sort of, you know, afraid of–really I think– afraid of, I wanted to celebrate that. And so that was you know part of it also, because we are as women we are the land, we are connected to corn mother in that way because we are also providing life from our own bodies.