(Jul 14, 1933 - Apr 19, 2012)
Traditional gardener and craftswoman, Blanche Epps began studying African American and Native American agricultural practices and crafts as a child. Her instruction in folk arts - doll-making, quilting, agriculture, horticulture, and the arts of making by hand (and "making do") - came from her grandmother, uncle, and aunt, who raised her in Kershaw County and Heath Springs, South Carolina. Their teaching was rooted in traditions their ancestors brought with them from Africa— traditions that were passed down through eight generations.
Since her arrival in Philadelphia in 1941, Ms. Epps constantly relied upon, and worked to preserve, these folk traditions. In her daily life, she effortlessly drew upon foodways, folk history, and folk crafts, including crochet, patchwork, spinning, weaving and doll making, as well as dried flower arrangements, container gardens, and palm braiding. Ms. Epps was also known for helping newcomers adapt their plants to Philadelphia's climate and soil conditions. As the organizer of the Garden of Gethsemene, a large community garden, she taught traditional African American planting techniques to city dwellers. The garden had sections devoted to medicinal plants, fruit trees, flowers, unusual vegetables, staple foods from the local region, and vegetables that are ordinarily unavailable in this country.
Ms. Epps established a private apprenticeship program to pass on plant lore and practice. She participated in numerous craft fairs and horticultural displays and received grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts to share her skills. She was featured in the Philadelphia Folklore Project's 1999 exhibition, "Folk Arts of Social Change."
Ms. Epps passed away on April 19, 2012. She will be long remembered for her devotion to bringing consciousness to traditional knowledge through agriculture.