Thaddeus Holownia
Staff of Life, 2006


The photographic series Staff of Life by Thaddeus Holownia explores staple whole grains. Cultivated around the world, cereal crops such as wheat, corn/maize, rice, soybeans, oats, canola, barley, and quinoa have served an integral part of the survival and prosperity of virtually every civilization. There are few things that transcend millennia and remain as relevant and essential to daily life today as they did in ancient times. As one of the most vital food sources, bread, and all its conceivable forms, has been the “staff of life”; over the centuries it has traveled and evolved, reflecting both the unity and diversity of human culture, and the ability of people to adapt to their environment. Rooted undeniably in nature, Holownia’s photographic installation reflects the importance of these foundational foods and their influential role in the cycle of life.

Applying the same strategy employed in the production of the Walden Pond photographic series, 25 Tree Studies for Henry David Thoreau, Holownia follows the long-standing tradition of scientific collection and study of plant materials, housed in Herbariums and other museums. Over the past year, Holownia collected and dried elegant samples of various plants that have a relationship to the Staff of Life project. The close-up photographs of the selected plant specimens are produced as large-scale photographic prints.


Thaddeus Holownia explores the intersections of nature and humanity. Specifically, he deals with how humanity changes landscape, how the forces of nature mould human structures, and how the two coexist. His work calls attention to various ecological and political issues that are of growing concern. Holownia's practice uses altered landscapes to convey the precarious relationship between man and nature. To expose these landscapes he returns to a place over years, even decades, and creates a photographic catalogue of the transformation.

As a young artist, Holownia was part of Toronto’s hip and burgeoning art scene. He left Toronto in 1977 for a two-year teaching job at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. Professor Holownia became Head of the Photography Department and is now Head of the Fine Arts Department. Enchanted by his surroundings, Holownia remained there and has never returned to living in an urban environment. His move to the Maritimes served to heighten his awareness of deeper moral and spiritual issues that are now the foundations of his ecologically conscious work.