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Photo showing men and women near wagon, with giant corn and cabbage larger than they are
"Bringing in the sheaves." Photo postcard by W. H. Martin, 1908.

New Flickr Album: A Corn-ucopia of Pictures

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The selection of pictures shared in our latest album posted on the photosharing site, Flickr, made me reflect not only on the strong associations in my own past between summer and corn on the cob, but also how fertile corn’s visual potential is. In fact, corn has traditionally been a symbol of life and fertility, particularly among the native peoples of the Americas, so I was delighted to see how artists and designers realized corn’s ripe possibilities in a variety of contexts.

Possibly my favorite is this musically inclined fellow composed of corn cob, leaves, and tassels (a composition that simultaneously demonstrates the rich linguistic play the word corn offers–I didn’t appreciate until I read the description that he is playing the cornet!):

Man with corn cob trunk and tassle skirt playing horn
Bufford’s vegetable cards, no. 790-4. Chromolithograph by J.H. Bufford’s Sons Lith., copyrighted 1887.

Who can resist a brightly colored public sculpture devoted to the cob?

Sculpture displayed outdoors consisting of a giant ear of corn
Many U.S. cities use eccentric themes, from cows to frogs to various depictions of musical instruments for their public art. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2016.

Once we started looking, corn fences turned up in several places in the collections, showing how not just the ears, but the entire stalk can offer a decorative accent.

Close-up photo of fence, showing iron decoration including corn cobs
New Orleans photographs. Corn fence, Prytania and 4th St. IV. Photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc. 1935,

And, given enough patience and cobs, what a terrific art supply corn makes!

Color photo of mural showing presidents faces from Mount Rushmore, made from corn cobs
Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2009.
Stereograph card (two images side by side for 3-d viewing) showing decorative sculpture made from corn cobs
Greatest corn exhibit ever made — Combined Corn States — Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Stereograph by Universal Photo Art Co., 1904.

It no doubt took farming skills as well as artistry to produce this ear, graced with the Red Cross symbol:

Photo showing hand holding ear of corn with cross in the midde, from darker corn kernels
Red Cross ear of corn grown on farm of C.A. Miller, near Marshaltown, Iowa. Presented to F.C. Letts, Dir. Dept. Supplies, at American Red Cross National Headquarters. Photo, 1919.

The Flickr album selections also suggest how people take pride in their corn crop, emphasizing the height of a stalk, the abundance of the harvest, or, in the case of this trick photo, impressively large ears (though cabbage and squash came in for some visual bragging, as well):

Photo showing men and women near wagon, with giant corn and cabbage larger than they are
“Bringing in the sheaves.” Photomontage postcard by W. H. Martin, 1908.

As Jan Grenci, the reference specialist who harvested the corn pictures suggested, “Enjoy these a-maize-ing images from the Library’s collections!”

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