Through early January, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie can be found in Chicago at the corner of Montrose and Ravenswood. Inside, on the second floor, of Lill Street Gallery.
Nature has been inspiring artists since time immemorial. Think of the unamed artists who inscribed animals on the cave walls of Lascaux. Thomas Cole and the many other landscape artists who comprised the Hudson River School in the mid-19th century. Lorado Taft and his Eagle’s Nest Art Colony along the Rock River in northwest Illinois. Even a certain Midewin blogger who makes original stained glassworks inspired by his award winning garden.
Late this past summer, Artists Nora Renick Rinehart and Liz Ann Kozik spent a 24-hour period at the actual Midewin, located about 20 minutes south of Joliet. According to signage at the exhibit, “Liz drew from that which grows in the earth, the plant life that filled the landscape: prairie restoration, crops, grass, and weeds. These paintings became the wallpaper that now fills the gallery.”
“Nora turned her gaze upward to the sky, photographing the sky every two hours. Using household paint swatches, she captured the exact color of the sky in each particular moment. These photographs hang around the gallery.”
I’ve been out to Midewin proper more times than I can count. I’ve written about it extensively and taken thousands of pictures. But I also love seeing Midewin through the eyes of others. Nora and Liz are gifted artists, whose talents and perspectives beautifully complement each other in this exhibition that runs at Lill Street through January 5, 2014.
I love how Liz has captured the exceptional diversity of plant life at Midewin with minimal use of color. And how her subtle palette shift from green to gold mirrors the overall progression of prairie color from spring to fall.
And I find it both playful and inspired how Nora helps familiarize the viewer to the prairie landscape by holding up color swatches to match the sky. Whereas many may be unfamiliar with the prairie, virtually everyone has seen color swatches at Menards or Home Depot with such nature evoking names as “blue willow.” Placing the familiar alongside the unfamiliar provides a reference point to help us really see something new. And, if we think about it, to remind us that so much of the man-made color in the world comes directly from nature.
I was further drawn into Nora’s photgraphs in the act of photographing them myself. If you look closely, you will see in the reflection in the glass, me taking a photograph of a photograph of someone taking a photograph of themselves (or at least their hand) in the prairie. Cool.