Prairie Dreams – University of Northern Iowa

"Prairie Dreams" addressed the disappearance of native vegetation and loss of wildlife habitat in Iowa. At one time 85% of Iowa's 36,000,000 acres was covered with tallgrass prairie. Today, only .1% of Iowa's tallgrass prairie remains. Iowa's Department of Natural Resources list 153 different species of plants as either Endangered or Threatened. The DNR also lists 7 mammals, 11 birds, 4 amphibians, 15 fish, 15 reptiles, 14 fresh water mussels, 8 snails and 7 butterflies among the Endangered or Threatened Species list.

"Prairie Dreams" was a temporary sculpture/installation in The Gallery of Art. The installation made use of the total 4600 sq. ft. gallery. It consisted of 5 large pools of water, covering most of the gallery floor. Suspended from the ceiling was a low volume irrigation system. Water was pumped up and it periodically created rain throughout the day. As one entered the gallery the view was through 3 rows of prairie grass and other native flowering plants. The grass and plants were in long narrow wooden troughs raised above the water. The concept of placing the planting beds above the water was to visually bring a connection between the surface of the ground and the water underneath.

As the viewer moved to the right, one entered a room with a raised bed. This was 5ft. x 10ft., slightly sloped and contained only soil. The next area also had a raised bed (5ft. x 10ft.) with a perfect lawn. There were two small signs in each corner promoting Yards for Kids, and pesticide free lawns.

As one turned the corner the path led into the far room. In this room was one end of a 60 ft. long bed containing prairie grass and other plants. This bed created a line connecting the length of the gallery. It was a representation of Iowa's Highway 20. This room contained approximately 35 plywood cutouts of Prairie Chickens.

All of the chickens were first painted white to represent the spirits of those that used to live in the tallgrass prairie of Iowa. The plywood cutouts were then taken to Price Lab School. We worked with 5th and 7th grade classes. The concept of the project was explained to the children. They were asked to bring them back to life through their artwork. The school children were encouraged to work in collaboration with each other, that it will take working together to bring these animals back to life.
The Prairie Chicken disappeared from Iowa in the 1950's.

The path led back into the first room. At the far end of the first pool was a pavilion. It was a deck construction (8' x 12') with a bench through the center and a corrugated fiberglass roof above. There was a rain system above the roof and the water fell into the pool. The room to left of the entrance contained 16 digital image prints about the project. All prints are in editions of 10. each one is 15" x 22". They are available for purchase at the Sockeye General Store.

I would like to thank the students from Austin Peay State University who dedicated 8 days to the installation of this exhibit. Without the hard work of Chip Boles, Rachel Hall, Tommy Jones, John Ladd, Shawnna Livingston, Paul Miller, Mikey Mitchell and Jessica Stoddard this exhibit might not have happened. This is their work as well as mine. Thanks gang!

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video by Chip Boles, Mike Mitchell, Rachel Kirk, Jessica Stoddard, Jon Ladd, Tommy Jones, Paul Miller, Shawna Livingston (APSU student participants assisted with the creation of the installation and made this video for presentation at the research forum on campus)