Instead of vibrant vessels of oil paint, colorful jars of grain line the shelves of Liz Schreiber’s Minneapolis home.
In every corner of the upstairs studio are jars, canisters, and glass containers large and small—all filled with hundreds of thousands of seeds. Corn kernels and soybeans. Split peas. Green millet. Beautifully black and glossy wild rice. Poppy seeds and purple barley, ready to be planted onto canvases.
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“I always knew I was going to be an artist from a very young age, despite what my mom calls ‘the curse of being creative,’” she says. Even with that so-called curse, Liz’s natural skills flourished into an impressive formal art education—studying fine art and sculpture with a minor in printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University, and obtaining her masters in theatre design in 1998 at the University of Minnesota.
The inspiration to construct magnificent seed mosaics stemmed three years prior. When she moved to Minnesota in 1995 to attend the U of M, Liz made the quintessential summer pilgrimage to the Minnesota State Fair and became inspired by the crop art competition.
“It’s a very tedious craft,” she admits, “but it’s a great way to slow down and really focus on one thing. I love the naïve quality of the finished images—even when it’s really well executed, there’s a clunkiness about it that really appeals to me.” And in 2004, after many years of admiring crop art from afar, Liz entered her first piece to the Fair, a portrait of the high-pitched yodeling country music singer, Slim Whitman.
Her seed submissions haven’t stopped since, and she’s amassed 22 ribbons total, including one reserve champion and six blue ribbons.Focusing mainly on faces, she’s crafted the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allan Poe, and even Colonel Sanders, who graces the entrance to her kitchen. “The people I choose to make portraits of tend to be people I’d love to meet, and admire for their tenacity of vision,” Liz reflects. “People who made their way through life believing in something that may have seemed crazy to others for one reason or another.”
No matter the subject, each piece is comprised of thousands of tiny seeds, with an average of 14 different native varieties, sourced from local co-ops or feed stores. “Most people are thinking about how they’re going to cook with them, and I’m thinking about color palettes and possibilities.”
What starts out as a line drawing then a watercolor painting, Liz soon smears with a layer of trusty Elmer’s glue and carefully places seeds one by one onto the board. “Then it’s like a puzzle,” she says, “choosing seeds based on color, shape, and tone to fit the pieces altogether.”
Even when she’s not meticulously maneuvering seeds with a glue-tipped toothpick, Liz has grains on the brain. She enjoys spending her free time gardening and fixing up a home in Wisconsin—fabricated from a grain bin, of course. Started by someone else, the grain bin was brought to the property to become a house, but was never finished. “It sat abandoned for nine years, then sold to us about a year-and-a-half ago along with a nice piece of land it sits on. […] It was just meant to be.”
Liz does challenge herself by shifting around to other mediums, including glassblowing, costume making, and jewelry, but the craft of crop art has grown into a central presence in her life. “I hope to pass along some images that make people wonder how the hell it was done, as well as bringing crop art further into the mainstream,” she says. “It would be nice to see it move from outside the State Fair and into more galleries and museums.”