To See Nature and the Universe in Your Garden

By Linda Wiggen Kraft

There is a William Blake poem from the early 1880s that starts with “To see a World in a Grain of Sand, and Heaven in a Wild Flower”. It is a call for us to know the universe in the forms of nature. There is a modern version of knowing nature and the world beyond through the brilliance of a woman mathematician, women’s handicraft and twin sisters who created a collaborative art exhibit that has traveled the world to bring environmental awareness to save the life forms of nature, whether on land or in the oceans.

I recently saw an art exhibit called Crochet Coral Reef in Santa Cruz, California. It is one of the largest art/science exhibits on the planet. It honors women’s brilliance, handicrafts and love of Mother Earth. It is a unique collaboration weaving together math, science, handicraft, environmentalism and community art. Although the exhibit centered on ocean corals, it demonstrates a form of nature’s expression that we see everyday in our gardens. This form is familiar to us with the curvy surfaces and edges that roll back on each other in curly lettuce leaves, kale, shelf fungi and common holly leaves. The mathematical name of this shape found in nature is hyperbolic geometry, a theory from the early 1800s of how the universe could be created. It was thought that this type of geometry could not be shown in physical 3D space until a woman mathematician created its physical form through crochet. In the late 1990s mathematician Daina Taimina of Cornell University made a 3D model of hyperbolic geometry with crochet. The crochet models turned out to be the same forms as ocean corals and other nature forms seen on land and sea.

The discovery inspired science writer Margaret Wertheim and her artist twin Christine Wertheim to create a collaborative art project that would show the hyperbolic forms of ocean corals, bring awareness to the perils facing coral reefs and empower women through their handiwork. The Wertheim sisters grew up near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. They crocheted the first coral forms themselves in 2005, but soon were joined by crocheters from around the world to bring this exhibit to museums and galleries in the US, Europe and UK. There are also coral reef satellites where local crocheters create their own exhibits. The crocheted pieces are made from wools and other traditional yarns. Rising ocean temperatures that bleach and kill corals are shown in some pieces in the exhibit. They are crocheted from plastic bags and plastic trash.

It was quite an exhibit to see. It brought awareness of the beauty, fragility and connections of nature in all the hyperbolic and other shapes, from the oceans to the curly leaf lettuce and kale growing now in gardens.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a landscape designer who creates holistic and organic gardens. She is also a mandala artist and workshop leader. Visit her blog: CreativityForTheSoul.com/blog or on her website: CreativityForTheSoul.com. Call her at (314) 504-4266

TED Talks by Margaret Wertheim and Daina Taimina are available online. The website – www.crochetcoralreef.org – shows ways to crochet a hyperbolic form.