Cynthia Mulcahy

Artist, Independent Curator, and Urban Farmer

Dallas artist and urban farmer, Cynthia Mulcahy, has changed the way Dallas understands its natural spaces and its dedication to the community’s use of them.  Mulcahy’s recent fly-poster publication, A Field Guide of Fauna of Dallas, Texas, catalogues the wildlife of her hometown—Tawny Emperor butterflies, White Ibis, Wood Storks and more—through a series of watercolors and attendant research. From her Edenic garden here for Shelf Life, Mulcahy cleverly reflects upon the role nature plays in city life and the ways she has found new meaning in her environs, both in the landscape and the mind. 

It’s Spring 2020 and we’re in the midst of the pandemic lockdown, so I am spending more time than usual in Dallas’ Trinity River and its environs, enjoying and thinking deeply about its under-appreciated radical beauty. So many plans have been proposed over the decades for what “to do” with the river. My recent deep dive in the Dallas Museum of Art Archives unearthed a proposal by Alan Sonfist, the New York-based environmental artist known for Time Landscape, his brilliant pocket forest planted in 1978 in Greenwich Village that still exists today. Surprisingly, Sonfist proposed and exhibited the following year in Dallas a plan for the Trinity River, which called for primarily cleaning up the river and creating small island habitats for native flora and fauna. I echo this thought process. What’s magnificent about the Trinity River is what is already there: a thriving river ecology with magnificent resident and migratory wild fauna and extraordinarily beautiful native flora.  



As an artist as well as a farmer—I grow 50 kinds of organic herbs for Dallas chefs—I am always interested in food sustainability issues. I’ve just started listening to Feed & Flourish, the “bite-size podcasts” of The Kloster Forum, a Swiss-based initiative founded by all women professionals and devoted to environmental issues. Global industrial farming is the biggest cause of species extinction, deforestation, water extraction, and carbon dioxide emissions. The current crisis is showing us that we must fundamentally change our food systems. To that end, I’ve been gifting hundreds of saved farm seeds to all my friends now starting gardens during the lockdown. Listen to Episode One with Tristram Stuart. 



Undoubtedly, the blues really fit our current moment. I’m listening to a whole lot of early Dallas blues on vinyl, especially piano blues, by the likes of Hattie Hudson, Whistlin’ Alex Moore, and Texas Bill Day. Luckily, I have checked out from the temporarily closed Dallas Public Library the complete recordings of Robert Johnson on vinyl. 



Philip Guston: Nixon Drawings, 1971 & 1975 by Musa Mayer 

I was pretty disturbed about everything in the country politically, the administration specifically, and I started doing cartoon characters. - Philip Guston   

I’m presently channeling my own anger at the current administration through Philip Guston’s brilliant Nixon drawings I recently saw last fall at Hauser & Wirth in Los Angeles. This really is one hell of a body of work, feverishly created over two months in 1971, but never shown in the artist’s lifetime. The book is as good as the exhibition.  


Silver. Skate. Seventies: California Skateboarding, 1975-1978, Photographs by Hugh Holland      

For pure escapism, I keep flipping through this recently published book of photographs by Hugh Holland, which so beautifully documents the whole Cali skate scene in the 1970s in photograph after photograph. 


How to Be An Artist by Jerry Saltz 

My pre-ordered promised signed copy I had forgotten about magically arrived—although unsigned—on March 24th, the first full week of Dallas’ coronavirus lockdown order. But I completely forgive Jerry because a few years ago he gave me a shout-out for Engines of War, the very first exhibition I ever curated in NYC. Every artist should read this insightful and brutally honest, but lyrical book, beginning with Chapter One: You are a total amateur. Grin. I can relate. 


Holbein’s Sir Thomas More by Hilary Mantel and Xavier F. Saloman 

Admittedly, I’ve been completely obsessed for more than thirty years with the portrait painting housed in the Frick Collection of humanist scholar Thomas More by Renaissance painter Hans Holbein. Knowing this, my sweetie recently gifted me this precious volume devoted to this one work. 


Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars, 1991- 2011 by Peter Eleey and Ruba Katrib 

The powerful accompanying catalogue to the recent exhibition at MoMA PS1, one of the last museum exhibitions I saw, is excellent. Artist Michael Rakowitz—whose work currently occupies the Nasher Sculpture Center—put a date palm in a NYC museum to highlight the fact that today only 3 million date palm trees remain of Iraq's 30 million trees, once the world's largest date palm orchards in the 1970s, but now reduced by wars, economic sanctions, export restrictions and a fungus caused by the use of depleted uranium shells in U.S. and allied partner bombing campaigns of the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. The artist really drives home what we humans are doing to the land, the flora and fauna, in addition to ourselves.  



The long days at home have me watching—literally every few hours—the hundreds of olives improbably growing in my North Texas backyard on a ten-foot tall Arbequina olive tree I impulse bought in 2008 or 2009 at The Greek Food Festival of Dallas. The olive tree picked this weird year to finally fruit. And I’m just glued to it. 

Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora Street
Dallas, Texas 75201
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