UpS x Caledonia Northern Folk Studios: The Ohio Herbal Elders Project 2.0

Paul Strauss at Equinox Farm – Meigs County © Jess Lamar Reece Holler
Photo: Paul Strauss at Equinox Farm – Meigs County © Jess Lamar Reece Holler || Caledonia Northern Folk Studios for the Ohio Herbal Elders Project, 2022+ || DSLR || Meigs Co., Ohio || June 2022

With the generous support of an Arts Resiliency Initiative Community Project Grant from Ohio Arts Council & Arts MidWest– supported by American Recovery Plan Funds – United Plant Savers is thrilled to announce its ongoing partnership with cultural worker & oral historian Jess Lamar Reece Holler for the next phase of the Ohio Herbal Elders Project: a hybrid oral history, folklife, public humanities, & arts project documenting histories of diverse traditional plant medicine movements in UpS’s home state of Ohio, & amplifying the histories of Ohio’s herbal elders to the wider public. A $15,000 Arts Resilience Initiative grant through the Ohio Arts Council & funded directly by ArtsMidwest is enabling this important work to continue in 2022.

In 2019, United Plant Savers joined forces with Lily Kunning of Haven Herbs – who first proposed the idea of an Ohio Herbal Elders Project – and documentary artist // oral historian Jess Lamar Reece Holler of documentary arts consultancy Caledonia Northern Folk Studios (Caledonia, Ohio) to launch a pilot for the Ohio Herbal Elders Project. Supported by an Ohio Arts Council ArtSTART small grant (2019-2020), the pilot project produced a dynamic life history interview with Meigs County herbalist and founder of Equinox Botanicals Paul Strauss, alongside thirteen mini-documentary pieces (which combined oral history excerpts with soundscape recording and documentary photography of Paul, his apothecary, and his forest farm) and a full-length hour-long oral history documentary. United Plant Savers has been proud to show this work as a part of our annual International Herbal Symposium, and these pilot materials featuring Paul & the Equinox story launch in April on our social media channels. But Paul’s story is far from the only one making up the storied history of traditional plant medicine in our ecologically & culturally diverse state.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, medicine & healing has been on the world’s minds these days. While long considered a part of the discipline of folklore/folk and cultural arts, traditional plant medicine has been historically underfunded as part of Ohio’s broader arts ecology: while many arts funders fund projects supporting the documentation, teaching, & presentation of other traditional arts genres, herbal medicine is often neglected. Because of this, we are losing the valuable wisdom and experiences of our elders: including a generation of pioneering herbalists who, in the 1960s and 1970s, helped kickstart the renaissance in American herbalism, and pioneering herbalists representing culturally-specific plant medicine traditions, in all corners of our state. Documenting the stories of our Ohio “herbal elders” through oral history, soundscape composition, photography, multi-media production, and installation is an important way not only to build a valuable archive of an under-recognized traditional arts genre in Ohio, but to educate about the power and potential of plant medicine and medicinal plant conservation.

United Plant Savers is humbled to be supported to build on the promise of our pilot project, and to launch a larger version of the Ohio Herbal Elders Project: to put a spotlight on Ohio herbal practitioners, to document the stories of our elders while we have them, and to provide a long-lasting, perennial educational resource for the herbal community in Ohio and beyond. 

Funds from ArtsMidwest will support United Plant Savers & North-Central Ohio-based documentary artist, photographer, folklorist and oral historian Jess Lamar Reece Holler of Caledonia Northern Folk Studios to:

  • Convene two Zoom listening sessions for United Plant Savers’ community of herbalists to determine a priority list for project narrators to be interviewed, with an eye to diversity of positionality and culture
  • Use oral history to document the life stories, herbal education, and experiences of five Ohio herbal elders
  • Record soundscapes of each herbalist’s spaces of practice
  • Create a documentary photography and video suite from each site visit with Ohio herbal elders
  • Create five new full-length mini-documentary shorts from each oral history interview for display at United Plant Savers’ Goldenseal Education Center in Meigs County and online
  • Curate a small exhibition on Ohio’s herbal traditions as traditional art — featuring project interviews, photographs, media, and interpretive panels — for our Goldenseal Education Center

We are thrilled by Ohio Arts Council & ArtsMidwest’s shared commitment to truly participatory, community-collaborative approaches to planning public arts projects – an ethic shared by both UpS and Jess Lamar Reece Holler. In the spirit of this collaboration, we are excited to invite the extended UpS community – & especially, any herbalists, conservationists, plant medicine practitioners, & friends of UpS living in or with historic connections to Ohio – to join us for one or both of two open Zoom planning sessions for the project, which will be held in late April. These 1.5-hour community planning sessions will provide a brief overview of the project, its timeline, & its goals, & will solicit feedback on potential narrators for the five interview slots available in the project. We are firmly committed to having the Ohio Herbal Elders project reflect the lived diversity of our state’s traditional medicine community– so we’re especially seeking participants & recommendations for herbal elders who come from all corners of Ohio, & represent culturally & ethnically diverse herbal medicine traditions. Planning meetings are open to all, & will convene at the following dates & times:

Please use the links above to RSVP for your choice of Zoom meeting. If you’re unable to attend live on Zoom, we welcome you to give feedback or recommend an Ohio herbal elder or tradition for us to document via the following GoogleForm: https://forms.gle/Jc8CubM9pGQCARbMA

Project work will take place between now & June 2022, with an expected exhibit opening & web release of project documentary materials by June 30th, 2022. Watch this space for updates, & we hope to see or hear from many of you to help our project truly represent the many herbal traditions alive & well in our Ohio! Thank you for your support of this important effort to archive & amplify herbal medicine in Ohio!

In solidarity,

Jess Lamar Reece Holler

Director & Lead Documentary Artist

Ohio Herbal Elders Project

Sassafras tree
Sassafras albidum at Equinox Farm – Meigs County © Jess Lamar Reece Holler || Caledonia Northern Folk Studios for the Ohio Herbal Elders Project, 2022+ || DSLR || Meigs Co., Ohio || June 2022
Milkweed seed at Equinox Farm – Meigs County © Jess Lamar Reece Holler || Caledonia Northern Folk Studios for the Ohio Herbal Elders Project, 2022+ || DSLR || Meigs Co., Ohio || June 2022
Milkweed seed at Equinox Farm – Meigs County © Jess Lamar Reece Holler || Caledonia Northern Folk Studios for the Ohio Herbal Elders Project, 2022+ || DSLR || Meigs Co., Ohio || June 2022
Watering seedlings at Equinox Botanicals
Paul Strauss watering seedlings at Equinox Farm – Meigs County © Jess Lamar Reece Holler || Caledonia Northern Folk Studios for the Ohio Herbal Elders Project, 2022+ || DSLR || Meigs Co., Ohio || June 2022
In the woods at Equinox Botanicals
Equinox Farm – Meigs County © Jess Lamar Reece Holler || Caledonia Northern Folk Studios for the Ohio Herbal Elders Project, 2022+ || DSLR || Meigs Co., Ohio || June 2022

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Funding for the Ohio Herbal Elders Project 2022 has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Ohio Arts Council & ArtsMidwest, through grant funds supported by the National Endowment for the Arts’ American Recovery Plan grant. Thank you to our state & regional arts organizations for making this important work possible! 

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