The New School Oyster Midden

January 25, 2009 at 4:29 pm Leave a comment

Internationally acclaimed environmental artist Mara G. Haseltine announced the unveiling of her latest creation, The New School Oyster Midden, at NYC’s The New School for Liberal Arts Located at: The New School Courtyard on 66 West, 12th St New York City (front Garden) this innovative project merges public art, environmental awareness and a slice of New York’s history.

To create this midden, New School students worked with environmental sculptor Mara G. Haseltine collecting a day’s worth of shells from the famous Grand Central Station’s Oyster Bar Restaurant, where patrons typically consume about five thousand oysters a day.

Oyster middens–piles of discarded shell–once littered the landscape of Manhattan and its neighboring shores, a testament to the astonishing abundance of the indigenous Eastern Oyster, Crassotrea Virginica. Indeed, with 350 square miles of oyster reef, New York Harbor was rightfully known as the “Oyster Capital of the World.”

Unlike those middens of yore, where shells were tossed in a heap, this one has been deliberately crafted. Inspired by Japanese garden design, the arrangement of shells is intended to mimic water flow in the intertidal zone where oysters thrive.

The creation of this midden is part of a unique course entitled, ‘Oyster Gardens’, taught my Mara G. Haseltine which merges environmental art, science and activism. Haseltine’s students work hand in hand with a cross disciplinary team that includes marine engineers, marine biologists, along with conservation organizations to plan and design and the ultimate urban oyster habitat— that could be deployed around the harbor. Haseltine runs her unique class like a production team where each of her students takes on individual role in order to get the project accomplished.

In addition, to The New School Oyster Midden project students in the ‘Oyster Gardens’ class taught by Haseltine have designed a number of artificial oyster reefs, man-made frames on which Oyster spat, or seedlings, will grow. During the first half of the Oyster Gardens class this past Fall her students developed the concept for creating the most efficient and beautiful structures based on the concept of ‘Biomimicry’ and the study of the life cycle and habits of the urban oyster, the design for which will be unveiled in the upcoming show which opens April 14-23rd Aronson Gallery and Project Space on 5th Ave and 13th St. with an opening on April16th between 6-8 pm. in conjunction with a lecture about the work the following day at the gallery at 1pm. The show will also display a series of materials tests for oyster reefs substrates, which Haseltine is developing as a set of design and science experiments.

This spring semester the class plans to construct frames for oyster reefs and, work with various public and private partners to install them in a variety of locations along the shores of Manhattan with one ultimate goal: the restoration of Crassostrea Virginia to the waters of New York harbor.

This is not Ms. Haseltine’s first work involving oysters, on July 1st 2007 on the Queens waterfront at McNeil Park in College Point; Mara launched with a team of marine biologists the first pilot project to grow a solar-powered oyster reef. The project employed a mineral accretion process, which uses low voltage, direct-current electricity to grow solid limestone underwater. Seedling oysters were affixed to two double-helix-shaped metal sculptures created by Haseltine in her Brooklyn studio. The DNA inspired double-helix shape merged aesthetic beauty and optimal functionality to the project, and double as educational tools for visitors.

About Mara G Haseltine
Haseltine graduated from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, with a bachelor’s degree in studio art and art history, and from The San Francisco Art Institute in San Francisco, Calif., with a master’s Degree in new genres and sculpture. Haseltine currently resides in New York City. She has worked as a sculptor throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and at the National Museum of Trinidad and Tobago in the Port of Spain, Trinidad. Haseltine is a Representative at Global Coral Reef Alliance, at United Nations for Sustainable Island Development partnership with the UN Commission on Sustainable Development Conference or “CSD”. Haseltine is also also currently creating reef restoration designs for coral and oysters. Including some novel new concepts for floating island reefs, which have the potential to improve aquaculture and aquatic biodiversity in areas where it is now being depleted. To learn more about the artist visit:

About The New School
The New School is a legendary, progressive university comprising eight schools bound by a common, unusual intent: to prepare and inspire its 9,400 undergraduate and graduate students to bring actual, positive change to the world. From its Greenwich Village campus, The New School launches economists and actors, fashion designers and urban planners, dancers and anthropologists, orchestra conductors, filmmakers, political scientists, organizational experts, jazz musicians, scholars, psychologists, historians, journalists, and above all, world citizens-individuals whose ideas and innovations forge new paths of progress in the arts, design, humanities, public policy, and the social sciences. To learn more about The New School visit:


Entry filed under: Get Wet, Natural Waterfront, Notable Nautical.

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