Seventeen Hundred Seeds: Farming as a Public Art Project

Robert Hamilton and Cynthia Mulcahy (photos by Erin Ahlfinger)

D Magazine intern Erin Ahlfinger files this report.

As you drive down W. Davis Street in the heart of Oak Cliff, a field of sunflowers is the last thing you’d expect to see tucked among the single-story brick buildings, just blocks from the thriving Bishop Arts District. The fact that it’s so out of place in its surroundings is part of what makes this display of farming as public art so charming.

The project is a collaboration of the agricultural and artistic expertise of art dealer Cynthia Mulcahy and artist Robert Hamilton, who run Mulcahy Farms. They began looking for a site over a year ago, and chose the 1.6 acre plot in Oak Cliff for its location and visibility. The land was cleared and prepared for planting in March. Seventeen hundred and sixty Aztec Gold sunflower seeds went into the ground in a grid pattern under an ominous sky on a North Texas spring day. Days passed, and farming as art became entertainment as area residents and passerby took notice and began to express interest. Police, firemen, and bus drivers now honk in approval as they pass through their daily routes. “It really is like street theater,” notes Hamilton. “The traffic slows down.”

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Sunflower seed ice cream floats provided by Bolsa

Eight-inch golden flower heads and a picturesque sunset provided the backdrop for a reception and community picnic Saturday evening.  Fifty or so area residents and three highly cultured dogs came with blankets and cameras to admire the collaborative efforts of artist and nature. The chefs at Bolsa were kind enough to provide an adorable assortment of sunflower-themed treats including sunflower ice cream floats and butter cookies for neighbors to nibble on as they mingled.

As I sat on a bale of hay chatting with other guests, I began to understand that the contribution to the community was not the flowers themselves, but the opportunity to build the sense of community around them. “It’s great to get all the people out. It really brings the community together,” resident Victor Zimmerman comments. Nearly everyone there had noticed the plot while going about their daily routine and had been curious enough to seek more information. That search had brought them to this small plot of urban nature where they now connected with neighbors who also appreciated the opportunity to enjoy seventeen hundred flowers on the way to work each day.

Seventeen Hundred Seeds will remain on display at 715 W. Davis Street until it completes its natural lifecycle.

[Ed. Note: An earlier version states that W. Davis Street is in South Dallas. We have since changed it to Oak Cliff.]

The plot from the Davis Street Side. The white box in the foreground contains an information sheet about the project.