Josie Iselin and the Curious World of Seaweed

A visit to The Studio at Marin Art and Garden Center finds us at the confluence of art, science and ocean activism. The Curious World of Seaweed takes us to a zone of incomparable richness, where marine algae are the supreme eco-engineers, oxygenating the waters, creating three-dimensional habitat for countless other organisms, and forming the base of an essential food chain.

In 2009 when studying to be a docent of an extensive coastal reef north of where I live in San Francisco, I noticed that most attendees’ attention was on the critters: the starfish, limpets, nudibranchs, crab and small fish trapped in the tidepools. No one was noticing the algae—the gorgeous red, green and brown seaweed that covered the rocks from the high tide line down to the low tide mark and beyond into the “subtidal” zone. 

Since that moment it has been my mission to use my scanner as a camera to create spectacular portraits of these underrecognized but hugely important organisms—the primary producers of our oceans—and to combine this imagery with well researched, lyrically written essays bringing others into an ocean world very different from our own.

There is a hunger right now to understand the natural world with increased nuance and ecological and historical context. My work taps into this hunger by bringing together stunning imagery, a sense of design for different applications, and a deep knowledge of the natural history and the history of the science behind the seaweed kelp forest ecologies.

— Josie Iselin

The sliver of ocean, where sunlight penetrates enough to allow photosynthesis to work its magic and where the benthos, or ocean bottom, provides something to hold onto, is the home of the seaweeds, or marine algae. Seaweeds have three requirements for survival: a substrate to hold onto to keep them in one place, sunlight to provide the energy for primary production of biomass, and nutrients to fuel growth. The thin section of ocean from the intertidal zone to about three hundred feet deep is where the ocean flora find these three elements for success and where they reside. This is a miniscule sliver of ocean area, less than two percent of the entire sea floor, and yet it is a zone of incomparable richness, where marine algae are the supreme eco-engineers. They oxygenate the waters, create three-dimensional habitat for countless other organisms, and form the base of a food chain that keeps our planet—unique in the universe as we know it—opulently rich in life.

The Pacific Ocean’s edge where it encounters the North American continent is considered one of the richest of these rich zones. The continental shelf is abrupt and close to the coastline, often less than a mile from shore. The steep transition from deep to shallow and prevailing winds that push surface waters away, letting the cold deeper waters well up with their vast nutrient stores, allow for exuberant algal growth. This slice of ocean from Alaska to Baja California in Mexico has some of the most diverse and abundant seaweeds and kelps on Earth. The rocky, fog-shrouded coast sports a spectacular number of seaweed species, from enormous kelps to tiny corallines.

Josie Iselin is a photographer, author and designer based in the Bay Area. Her newest award-winning book is The Curious World of Seaweed (Heyday Books, August 2019) and the basis for this exhibition. Using her flatbed scanner, she makes vibrant and bold portraits of the seaweeds found right here along the California Coast. She often combines these contemporary scans with historical visual documents from the history of science. This layering of the seaweeds across time

and place creates a dialogue that extends from ocean into the garden, and from past to present and on into the uncertain future of a changing ocean.

Iselin’s artwork is the starting point for her extensive research into the natural history of the seaweeds. Her deep understanding of their habitat, life cycles and ecology stems from the artistic exploration. These visual investigations extend into combining the historical process of cyanotype printing with her contemporary scans as well as creating more abstracted compositions using the color and form of the seaweed specimens she has collected, pressed, and scanned. She then decides whether to create artworks on paper, on metal, or on fabric, all three of which are combined to create a dynamic algal world in The Studio. Her overriding goal is to bring the sense of wonder found on the beach, exploring the tidepools, or snorkeling amidst the kelp forest to us, at home or in the gallery.

Events with Josie Iselin

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IRS Guidelines for Gifts from Donor Advised Funds to Support MAGC Events

Thank you for your interest in giving to the Marin Art & Garden Center events from your Donor Advised Fund (DAF) or Family Foundation.

We sincerely appreciate your generosity and support!

To ensure your gift follows the current IRS guidelines for DAF/Family Foundation support of an event, we would like to share the below guidelines with you.

  • Raffle tickets, tickets to galas and other special events, auction items, and benefits conferred in connection with a DAF/foundation grant are not permitted.
    • IRS has specifically ruled that fair market value associated with fundraising events cannot be separated, a practice known as “bifurcation.”
      • For example, with Edible Garden, if the price of the ticket is $200 and the FMV fair market value (non-tax-deductible amount) is designated to be $50, the donor must pay from sources other than her DAF/foundation for the full value of the ticket ($200) and not just for the non-tax-deductible amount ($50).
    • We recommend you confer with your financial advisor to confirm if any of these examples of how donors may still use their DAF to support an event would work for you:
      • A donor could sponsor the event, and not attend, and pay fully out of the DAF/foundation.
      • A donor could sponsor the event using DAF/foundation funds and attend by purchasing an individual ticket through non-DAF/foundation funds.
      • A donor could sponsor the event, join the event as a guest of another donor/table guest, and pay fully out of the DAF/foundation.
      • A donor could sponsor the event and host the afforded number of people at their chosen level as long as they pay for the seats at the lowest ticket price ($200 for Edible Garden) outside of their DAF.
        • As an example, a $1,500 sponsor that covers 2 guests, could pay for their sponsorship with $400 from a different source of funds, and then give an additional gift of $1,100 out of their DAF.


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