Julia Sherman: Can you tell me a bit about how you started making art, painting in particular?
Storm Tharp: It was never a question what I would do with myself. I’m from a small agricultural town in Eastern Oregon – so art class was limited to the enthusiasm of a grade- school teacher. Knowing I was curious and passionate about making things, my mom found two, very good, private teachers for me when I was young: Joan Lehman taught me ceramics and calligraphy and Florence Pobanz taught me how to paint in the field. It sounds fancy – but it wasn’t. It was equivalent to piano lessons. Except that it was the the best part of my day. I was so fortunate.
JS: Your cultural heritage has given you a unique perspective on food. Tell me about that?
ST: I was lucky to have enthusiastic eaters and cooks on both sides of my family. My mom’s side of the family is Basque – so I grew up with some really great food that was understood as rare and special. Very working class, frugal, country food. But the best chorizo I have ever had in my life. I genuinely believe that kind of chorizo does not exist any more. Its difficult to describe. But what people now consider Basque chorizo is not the chorizo that I was raised on. Combine Basque food with hunting culture. So much pheasant, chukkar, and venison. Delicious.
JS: What about your dad’s side of the family?
ST: My Dad’s side of the family was more robust and opinionated. Rooted in mid-western traditions like fried chicken and elaborated upon by my aunts who were masterful cooks who embraced the garden. They were adventurous in a way that we now understand as gourmet. These things totally paved the way for me in the kitchen. I am all those things and then some. I suppose if I had a food blog it would be called Mexican for President.
JS: Watch it, I’m not looking for competition. But, aside from your skill in the kitchen, you are a plant whisperer. When did this interest begin, and how did you cultivate this skill? Does it have anything to do with your experience in the kitchen?
ST: Well, I wonder about the connection between plant growers and cooks. They are so connected and for me, one led to the other. Cooking was probably my first hobby. And by that I mean, I saw it as something I was learning and curious about rather than a destiny or a calling. It was a past time, similar to collecting records. I think once cooking established itself as second nature, I inadvertently jumped to plants.
JS: What about the plants compels you?
ST: House plants are an interruption or an enhancement of decor. I love the idea of creating mise en scène – and our home is both composed and wabi sabi. My plants are some of the most precious objects in my home and yet by nature they are wild and full of surprise. Somehow, preparing food and tending to plants fees like they spring from the same place – and embolden and strengthen my eye and passion for art making. I often think my plants are my art.
JS: Do you have any advice for people who consider themselves “black thumbs?”
ST: This is a slightly cavalier thing to say – but I just don’t believe in black thumbs. If you are attracted to plants, but you are unsure of whether or not you have what it takes to help them flourish – you just need to change your outlook. You need to become curious. And if you are not that curious – no big deal. If you want to get involved, pay attention to what they need. Peonies love full sun. You know what I’m saying?
JS: I do! It’s an exercise in observation.