Recycle Runway Blog

New Garment: “Opal” Published: 03.25.2013 at 9:40 am by Nancy Judd

“Opal” by Nancy Judd

This spring of 2013 I was invited, along with 15 other Santa Fe artists, to create a new sculpture for a fundraiser for the Nature Conservancy and the Santa Fe Farmers Market. The event is called “Picnic for Earth” and is organized by the Patina Gallery next to the Santa Fe Plaza.

Each artist was given a beautiful oak picnic basket and encouraged to transform it in anyway that inspired us . The day I picked up my basket from the Patina Gallery, I took it home and buried it in the back yard! Having worked exclusively with trash for the last 15 years, the newness of the basket was blinding to me. It felt strange and pretty ironic to intentionally ruin the new basket but such are the dilemmas I face as an environmental artist! So, first I submersed it in my rain barrel, and then I buried it in the dirt. When I went to dig it up a month later, it was frozen in the ground and took me several weeks to finally unearth.

Opal Whitely

The inspiration for this piece I knew had to come from nature, but I was not clear exactly what that would be until, one morning, I awoke thinking about Opal Whiteley. As a teenager I had read “The Story of Opal”, the diary of a young girl living a hard life in logging camps amongst the forests of western Oregon. I remember being very inspired by her vision of, and conversations with, the spirits of the natural world. Creating a fairy that personified the spirit of the land seemed like a perfect fit for this project.

I had read Opal’s diary at Cascade Head Preserve, a Nature Conservancy site on the Oregon Coast. My parents had bought adjacent land in Cascade Head Ranch in the 1970s and had built a house overlooking the Salmon River Estuary. Starting when I was 7 years old, I had spent most weekends and summers at Cascade Head.

I am very grateful to the Nature Conservancy because it was on their land that I developed my appreciation for nature, which lead to my career in environmental education. It is a great honor to create this piece to benefit the Conservancy and the Santa Fe Farmers Market, which I visit religiously every week.

Nancy collecting materials at the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve

In addition to the picnic basket, I used a vintage dress given to me by a friend; plants that I collected at the Conservancy’s Santa Fe Canyon Preserve; and dried flowers from the Santa Fe Farmers Market. The branches are from different types of willows; the seeds on the wings are from a box elder; the necklace is made from juniper berries; the pods on the dress are clematis; the foliage around the neck is juniper mistletoe; and the petals on the picnic basket are dried peonies, marigolds and roses from the Santa Fe Farmers Market.

Detail of mistletoe and picnic basket on” Opal”

I did not know that the chartreuse foliage around the neckline was mistletoe until someone at the Nature Conservancy identified it for me. After a bit of research, I realized that it is a perfect fit for this garment. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant, deriving nutrients from its host. It is reported to have “a disproportionately pervasive influence over its community”. It can kill its host through invasion, but is also said to have a positive effect on biodiversity, providing high quality food and habitat for a broad range of animals in forests and woodlands worldwide.

As the spirits of nature create an image that we might recognize as human, what more perfect plant than mistletoe could they chose? Humans, like mistletoe, are often invasive and destructive, but our actions can also be beneficial, as seen by inspiring organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and the Santa Fe Farmers Market!

One morning while creating this dress, I awoke with the following poem in my head. It is the first time I have written a poem to accompany a garment and it felt like a perfect fit.

More and more, the spirits of the land
felt forgotten by humans,
and before they disappeared altogether
they decided to make themselves seen.
So branches, flowers and seeds
wove themselves together
and created a sprite to say:

As you pollute the air, the water, the soil,
as you cause plants and animals to die away
as you change the very earth itself
While you live your lives–
dancing, working, singing, loving, praying–
remember our wildness in yourselves!

Nancy Judd, 2013


The opening for the “Picnic for Earth” is at the Patina Gallery on April 5, 2013 from 5:30pm-7:30pm. The show will be on display through April 26th. Patina Gallery is located at 131 West Palace Avenue, Santa Fe.

If you live in or near Santa Fe, I hope you can come to the opening on the 5th to see “Opal” in person!

Also, watch this video created by the Nature Conservancy about creating Opal.


« Back to the blog