Adam Purple’s Garden of Eden

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“I first met Adam Purple in 1978, when journalist Norman Green and I did a story about him for New York Magazine,” says photographer Harvey Wang, in an interview with Vanishing New York. “I found [Adam] to be one of the most intelligent and interesting people I had ever met, and though I didn’t understand half the things he was talking about, I continued to visit him over the years.”

For more than a decade of his life, Adam Purple built and maintained The Garden of Eden, an Earthworks installation that existed on Eldridge Street from 1975 until 1986, when it was destroyed by New York City to make way for a housing project.

Early on Purple took his own photos, but as his garden grew he needed Wang’s help to create composite images of its entirety. “I enjoyed shooting the project because he was doing everything by hand, without power tools, which was remarkable,” says Wang. “It was back-breaking labor, day in and day out. He cleared five lots of demolished tenement rubble, made the soil, and planted the garden, reclaiming about one lot per year….Adam has to be one of the first people to talk about sustainability issues. It’s still radical now, and was more so back then.”

A collection of Wang’s Garden of Eden photographs is on display at Fusion Arts on Stanton Street in NYC through February 20. If you can’t make it to the show, there is also a fantastic short video online by Amy Brost. It features Adam Purple’s eloquent voice, telling the Garden’s story, along with photos by Wang (and a few by Adam Purple himself).

“It would have been better to kill me and leave the garden,” Purple states at the end of the piece. “Because, well, that’s the way I view it.”

Adam Purple still rides his bicycle around the Lower East Side. He’s in his eighties now—reportedly. Only he seems to know for certain what his real name is.


Kevin Nolan writes essays and fiction. More from this author →