• All the herbalists and I are root diggers | Ann Shelton
  • All the herbalists and I are root diggers | Ann Shelton

Ann Shelton

All the herbalists and I are root diggers | Ann Shelton

Regular price $10,500.00

Ann Shelton

All the herbalists and I are root diggers (Roots, Root Diggers, Wortcunners, Root Men, Root Maids), 2022-ongoing 

'i am an old phenomenon' 

Systems of belief concerning the medicinal, magical and spiritual uses of plant materials were well established in the lives of European forest, nomadic and ancient peoples. However, these beliefs were forcibly supplanted as pagan practices were displaced across Europe and other continents in the wake of Christianity and the rise of capitalism. The consequences of the suppression and attempted erasure of this plant-based belief system continue to be profound. Knowledge, often held by women, of the healing and spiritual effects of plants has been replaced by a significantly more limited emphasis on their predominantly aesthetic qualities. This separation informs our contemporary relationship to plants as being primarily one of commodification.

The images in 'i am an old phenomenon' are part of the re-assemblage of fragments of this old knowledge and, in their ontology, invoke the persecution of wise women, witches, and wortcunners who kept this knowledge safe but whose understanding of plants and their connection with reproduction, in particular, represented a threat to the new order. All the plant sculptures photographed are constructed by the artist who has always been interested in the history of floral art and its expansive gendered resonances having worked with plants since childhood.

Archival pigment print on Hahnemühle Bamboo 

Artwork: 44 1/8 x 33 1/8 in (112 x 84 cm)

Framed: 45 5/8 x 34 5/8 x 2 1/4 in (116 x 88 x 5 cm)


Roots are believed to be the part of the plant where healing power is concentrated. All the herbalists and I are root diggers… attempts to focus us back into the dirt, the earth and on the things that are not tangible to us below its surface but are powerful forces in our environment. This work asks the central question of this series: how can we reconfigure our relationship to nature?

When making this work, the artist gave close attention to the structure of the world tree drawing, with its equal focus on roots underground and the tree’s above ground elements. Suzanne Simard's book Finding the Mother Tree and her wood-wide-web concept was another key reference, looking at the ability of tree roots to transmit essential nutrients to each other.