Idaho Arts Quarterly » Further

Hearts in the Arts

For two sisters, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree


Nearly a century ago, two fraternal twin sisters unknowingly created a legacy. On muggy summer afternoons, Peggy and Betty Shurtleff ventured among shadows cast by apple trees in the family's Payette orchard. Crates filled with the year's harvest sat waiting to be loaded on a flatbed truck and peddled at local markets. On each crate, an emerald green label advertised "Twin Heart Brand" with a photograph of the sisters sitting together with similar smiles showing beneath matching bob haircuts. Unbeknownst to the two girls, "Twin Heart Brand" would come to define the essence of a relationship between sisters of a future generation.

As the fifth generation raised on the orchard, Sidni Mordhorst and Adrianne Shurtleff-Meckel grew up playing among the same apple trees as their great-aunts Peggy and Betty. Although Sidni and Adrianne are not twins—they are six years apart in age—these two sisters are much like their elder counterparts.

Growing up, the Shurtleff sisters experienced an idyllic lifestyle conducive to their burgeoning creativity. Decades—and dozens of harvests—after "Twin Heart Brand" came into existence, Sidni and Adrianne reaped fruit of their own. They became artists.

As the sisters' artistic identities developed, so did their collaborations. Adrianne recorded their telephone conversations for a project. Sidni led the duo in writing and illustrating a children's book entitled Willie, a story about their father's childhood dog. During their time apart, the sisters arranged creative rendezvous during family vacations. In one instance, they convened in Payette, posing in an old courthouse to create photographic images of yesteryear.

Meanwhile, the 21st century heralded super farms and technological advances. Shurtleff Orchards and Vineyards was unable to keep up. Production slowed and output decreased, making it necessary to remove hundreds of trees. Although the Shurtleff sisters realize changes are crucial in the horticulture industry, the experience was devastating. "The first thing they did [was] tip [the trees] over with a front end loader," recalls Sidni. "It was the weirdest thing because the leaves were still green but the roots were out. I know this sounds dramatic, but they were like corpses. It lasted for days; I felt like they were laying there crying."

Attention to what has come before them is what makes the Shurtleff sisters' work special: Through writing, photography and art, they attempt to resurrect the past. One of Sidni's poems is inspired by a 19th century photographic phenomenon referred to as "hidden mothers," in which a woman was shrouded in cloth while her newborn was flaunted in front of the camera. "Is this what I've become, a rostrum for your display—a settee to rest upon?" she writes.

Vestiges of history can also be seen in Adrianne's work. She creates vintage portraits through stippled ink drawings, mounting the finished work to antique pieces of photographic equipment. "I think I live in the past; I don't live in the future much," says Adrianne. "I gravitate toward old images and old processes in my work."

"Growing up the way we did, we have a better sense of other generations," says Sidni. "It's very rich; it's very layered." Adrianne adds, "You could count on the fact that it was always going to be the same for you as it was for them. It was this collective experience."

The dynamic of the Shurtleff sisters' relationship—Adrianne as fearless adventurer; Sidni as introspective observer, documenting her experience—rings true in their individual work.

Sidni's children's books are reminiscent of her own childhood on the farm. Although she draws inspiration from lingering memories, she finds the process "a little bit haunting."

"Sometimes I don't intend to go there, but then I start to think about a character," says Sidni. "There will be something going on in their lives that ties me back to that place. Maybe that's how all writers are, because you have to go to your memories to start building something authentic."

Today, Sidni and Adrianne keep the "Twin Heart Brand" alive, exhibiting jointly via their Web site. As yet another generation is raised to see the fruits of Shurtleff Orchard and Vineyards and the once bustling farm transitions into quiet, these two sisters hold onto their roots. Their connection to the land, each other and the past continues to blossom, ripening into collaborations and their own individual works.

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