On an unseasonably cool, July day, I met Dr. Sherry Haar (of the Department of Apparel, Textiles, and Interior Design at K-State) in the Meadow for an intro lesson in natural plant dyes.
Dr. Haar’s research centers on natural plant dyes and expands into many areas of sustainability. She has recently begun work with textiles that may impact natural funereal and burial practices. Fascinating, isn’t she? Now that I have your attention, here’s a bit of what Dr. Haar showed me today:
Dr. Haar began by testing several species of flower using fabric test strips. Each strip contains different samples of fabrics in a fabric family, such as silks, or cellulose fabrics (cotton, linen, rayon…).
The test strip quickly absorbed a brilliant orange color from Coreopsis tinctoria (annual plains coreopsis).
Dr. Haar explained other processes she uses to experiment with natural plant dyes. She will often “bundle” plants in fabric pre-treated with a mordant, to reveal what effects the flower, leaf, or stem of a plant may create. She also “pounds” plant material into pre-treated fabric, which results in brilliant colors with realistic pattern impressions of the plant’s structure.
Dr. Haar’s fabric designs are stunning; she has designed many fabrics for garments and other uses. We look forward to her use and her students’ use of the K-State Meadow!
Postscript: After the Meadow visit, Haar placed the bundled plants in pretreated fabric in a sunny, outdoor location.
After several weeks in the sun, Haar opened the bundles to view the plant dye effects:
Fred Henley (BLA 1960) and Judy Henley (BS 1959) recently established the John and John T. Henley Meadow Excellence Fund as a resource for interpretation and maintenance of the Meadow. The Henleys are interested in the Meadow’s potential to serve as a “pointer” to the nearby Konza Prairie and as a resource for interpreting Kansas grasslands.
Thanks to the Henleys, 400 new plant plugs of little bluestem were added to the Meadow in May 2015 and a seasonal student employee has been hired to help with Meadow maintenance. The Henleys gift will help fulfill many needs at the Meadow.
If you’d like to learn more about supporting the Meadow, please contact Katie Kingery-Page at email@example.com.
Post written by Richard Dean Prudenti and Katie Kingery-Page.
Seeding of the Meadow began nearly two years ago. In that time the campus and community have witnessed the growth of a native plants landscape at K-State, just north of the Beach Museum of Art. Many people have shown great appreciation for the plants, the habitat and the landscape design elements. This became apparent when Richard Prudenti (graduate student in landscape architecture and co-author of this post) provided a tour of the Meadow for several alumni of landscape architecture during the 50th Anniversary celebration of the landscape architecture program at K-State.
The alumni questions and observations were enlightening, as this was their first visit to the Meadow. For example, one person inquired about the non-native trees in the landscape: How is it possible to create a sustainable Meadow with the current tree inventory? Will we replace them with native trees? As we await the regrowth of spring, we want to take a moment to answer these questions and others posed by visitors to the Meadow:
Q: Will we replace the current tree inventory with native trees?
A: The site currently holds six trees; two are native to Kansas: a Chinquapin Oak and an Eastern Red Cedar. The trees provide shade conditions that are much denser than that of an upland prairie, but this canopy does evoke a savannah-like feeling. Understanding the amenity of healthy trees in a campus environment, it makes sense to preserve these trees for their qualities of shade and enclosure of space. To a purist, preserving the healthy non-native trees that came with the site might be anathema, but the Meadow is a landscape of compromise between human needs and the desire to showcase native plants.
Our plan is that in a few more years, the Meadow can sustain itself and require very little maintenance. But just as in a natural grassland, tree seedling growth must be suppressed. Currently, seasonal mowing suppresses seedling trees in the Meadow.
Q: How was the under-story of plants designed?
A: The plant palette is drawn from the documented plant composition of the nearby Konza prairie, and includes species selected for a cohesive aesthetic effect as well as creation of animal habitat and a resource for understanding human use (for example, some native species are used by pollinators; others have been used by people for food and dye plants). Species were combined in five different mixes in response to sun/shade and edge conditions of the site. Still in its second year and a work in progress, it will take 3-5 years to reach the point where the Meadow maintains a dynamic equilibrium of native grasses and wildflowers.
During the 2014 growing season, transplantation of plants from K-State greenhouses increased species on site from 20 to more than 40, including milkweed and other species that provide food and habitat for Monarch butterflies and other pollinators. In the future, monitoring pollinators will be paramount to validating the Meadow’s existence and perhaps supporting the creation of additional “meadows” on campus.
Q: Will the Meadow be burned at some point?
A: Gaining permission for controlled burns is a concern, especially as close as the Meadow is to the Beach Museum of Art, McCain Auditorium, All Faiths Chapel, and other campus buildings. We feel a controlled burn could be safely planned as a celebratory and educational event. If the planning team is successful in obtaining permissions, a burn still cannot be held until the plants have sufficient root growth to survive a fire–typically not until 2-3 years after planting.
Q: What are the sustainability goals of The Meadow?
A: We have altered the landscape from turfgrass to native plants with far less water and chemical use than conventional lawns. Once fully‐established, the Meadow’s need for herbicides/pesticides and water usage beyond rainfall should be minimal or nonexistent. In addition, we believe the Meadow will decrease stormwater runoff into existing inlets on the site. We hope to begin monitoring stormwater runoff, chemical and water inputs, in comparison to a typical campus site, later this year.
Q: Will there be lighting in the Meadow?
A: Currently there is not a budget for expanding electrical service on the site and adding light fixtures. Our aspiration is to develop artful lighting.
Q: How is this landscape funded?
A: Thus far, the Meadow has been made possible by the generosity of private citizens such as the Hummel family (William and Sara Hummel Memorial Fund) and the Henley family (John and John T. Henley Meadow Excellence Fund). K-State’s Green Action Fund, a pilot fund through the Student Government Association, has also provided support. In addition, numerous in-kind hours of work have been given by faculty, staff, and community. We continue to seek out funds to accomplish a number of objectives.
Q: How will the memorial function of the Meadow be visually expressed?
A: From the beginning, the Meadow has served as a living memorial, which will be recognized on a sign planned for summer 2015.Since the construction, several people have approached the planning team asking that further memorials be incorporated in the Meadow. The Meadow planning team feels that for the meadow to function as a contemplative landscape, it must remain free of visual clutter. Thus, people have developed creative and meaningful ways to memorialize, including sponsoring and participating in planting days and donating seating elements.
Q: Will there be signage to explain the goals of the Meadow?
A: Every effort is being made to preserve the visual aesthetic of the Meadow. A subtle sign planned for the Meadow will refer visitors to a touchtable exhibit inside the museum. This display of visuals and information is currently under construction.
Q: Will we be monitoring the changes in soil and habitat, the use of water, etc.?
A: Kingery‐Page led an interdisciplinary team to plan and design the Meadow with “ecosystem services” in mind, as defined by the Sustainable Sites Initiative:
Local climate regulation
Air and water cleansing
Erosion and sediment control (the former turfgrass had areas of erosion from runoff and native plants now slow and capture sediment).
Hazard (flood) mitigation
Human health and well‐being benefits
Food and renewable non‐food products
In Fall 2014, faculty from the departments of Landscape Architecture/Regional & Community Planning and Bio-Agricultural Engineering applied for an EPA grant to monitor several sites on campus. The research anticipated at the Meadow will compare the chemical and water inputs as well as stormwater infiltration at the Meadow to a typical turfgrass area of equal size on campus.
Q: What is the primary goal of this project?
A: One of the overarching goals is to heighten awareness of the need to protect grasslands worldwide. More than 49% of grasslands have been destroyed worldwide and only 4 percent are currently protected.
The Meadow is a setting for careful observation, discussion, and drawing activities, encouraging visitors to make meaningful connections between art, science, and enjoyment of the natural world. The site fosters lifelong learning about the Flint Hills ecoregion and sustainable landscape management.
A Special Thank You
We greatly appreciate those who participated in touring the Meadow fall 2014. Your interest in learning about the Meadow, its purpose, and what we might be doing next proved quite valuable in our planning efforts. Your thoughts and responses to the Meadow experience will continue to help us as we develop the Meadow.
We’re finally feeling some hot days in the Kansas Flint Hills. In the Meadow, we have already cut back growth three times, in an effort to keep weeds in check as the native species grow in. I describe this to passerbys as allowing the growth above ground to catch up to the growth underground. Many studies have shown the effective growth pattern of perennial native prairie species, which tend to first put down deep roots to ensure survival, rather than showy growth above ground in the first season.
Thanks to the heat wave, I had a chance to reconnect with the Meadow while watering Saturday morning. Watering time allows me to closely observe species growth, to reflect on Meadow maintenance, and to observe visitors to campus using the newly installed Meadow Benches. In the morning, several people came through and paused on the benches; traces left by other visitors were evident. I had taken this photo the evening before:
Over the past week, I noted three new species in flower: pitcher sage, butterfly milkweed, and wild petunia.
Beyond watering (which has been occasional since August–just in response to the sustained, dry heat) and cutting back, some other maintenance is needed. We will put out a call for volunteers, soon, asking for those who may be willing to gingerly hand weed from the edges of paths. Hand weeding is an excellent chance to learn plant identification. For the upcoming volunteer day, we will have at least two K-Staters on hand to help identify native plants. Stay tuned for date and time.
In closing, please join me in making this week a grassroots “grounds crew appreciation week.” The Meadow benefits greatly from the continued guidance of Joe Myers, KSU Physical Plant Supervisor, Facilities Grounds Maintenance. He and his colleagues have helped the project in numerous ways through their generosity of knowledge, time, and skill. These are some of the people who make our campus beautiful.
The addition of benches made out of the former hackberry trees in the Meadow will allow this place to be your get-away spot for momentary relief and contemplation.
Installation of four “meadow pews” this coming week brings to completion the collaborative design-build efforts of architecture and landscape architecture professors and students.
The hackberry trees were cut down a couple months ago for safety reasons, but organizers of the project didn’t want any of it to go to waste. Therefore, the larger pieces were used for the benches.
“The benches are a wonderful complement to the Meadow, bringing into sharp focus a minimalist aesthetic of materials and form,” said Katie Kingery-Page, assistant professor of landscape architecture. “Architecture students Jake Hofeling and Landon Hubbard express their considerable talents in design and fabrication through these custom milled benches. They have created something that is beautiful and reasonably durable.”
Kingery-Page is in charge of the Meadow project, volunteering many hours this summer to seeding, planting and managing the maintenance and care of this plot that will take 3-5 years to develop.
The benches will be located within the site, most under shade trees. “That will be the most comfortable places to sit for much of the year, especially the months of May through September when the Meadow planting will be in full growth each year,” Kingery-Page said.
Three benches are to be placed at edges of the gathering space, which will be used actively for teaching and speaking events. A fourth bench will be placed in a sunny, contemplation space, just off the main path through the Meadow.
As funding becomes available, the hope is to commission an artist to create permanent benches to be placed within the Meadow and adjacent to the concrete sidewalk on the edges of the Meadow. Benches at the edge of the Meadow would serve as an informal sign that this Meadow is meant for use – for hanging out, resting or eating lunch. Those benches would require concrete pads; Meadow leaders hope for donations to make this possible.
After participating in the cutting of the logs last month, the students went to work to solve two practical problems and in design “let the beauty of these massive logs speak for themselves,” said Hubbard, a fifth-year architecture student.
The cutting of the wood was made possible through the generosity of Larry’s Sawmill Service. The hydraulic equipment enabled the students and professor Josh Cheek to mill the pieces so as not to damage the wood and even the bark was salvaged for use on other projects.
The students had to figure out how to solve two challenges. Hackberry is an extremely sweet wood and insects like termites love to snack on it. Also, wood tends toward cracking once the bark is removed.
“We can’t just take these and set them out there. We have to raise the benches off the ground so they can last longer,” Hofeling said.
Hubbard and fellow student Jake Hofeling decided to fabricate small steel “ski’s” for the logs to sit on in order to raise them off the ground away from standing water and termites. These legs are short in height and recessed in order to make the logs appear to float from closer vantage points.
The benches are a temporary solution to a long-term need for seating in the Meadow. Mother Nature is often not very nice to any kind of outdoor furniture. To slow the process of decay, the students applied a mixture of penetrating oil and mineral spirits to slow the curing process of the wood (hopefully limiting large cracks in the wood) and protect them from bad weather.
The cracks themselves create a sort of aesthetic for these contemporary, light-colored benches, appropriate in a natural setting like the Meadow. The cracks do continue to shrink and grow up to a quarter-inch or half-inch, moving throughout the wood.
For the students, this is their first public work, having previously made small pieces of furniture from reclaimed wood under the advisement of professor Dick Hoag. Hubbard and Hofeling’s earlier work impressed Kingery-Page and Linda Duke, director of the Beach Museum of Art.
Kingery-Page and Hoag worked with colleague Josh Cheek in informing the students about what values the design would need to embrace as well as selecting the final design.
The College of Architecture, Planning and Design supported and sponsored the design-build work of these students. The philosophy is that students not only design but participate in the “real world” fabricating of the product.
“It’s not just something on paper. As you work with material the design changes. It’s a give-and-take between the design part and the build part,” Cheek said.
Hofeling said he finds the design process almost comical at times. “Our sketches don’t mean a thing until we actually start the project and let the materials begin to inform us.”
He further explains that good design is a process of distillation that happens throughout the process from inception to completion. In stripping the design they define what’s really important. “Anything that detracts from the design or muddles it in any way is discarded. In this case once we cut the logs our ideas about the project completely changed,” Hofeling said.
For this reason the benches do not have backs. They students spent several days sketching ideas and talking about execution. However, once they cut the logs, they realized that adding anything to the beautiful wood surface felt inappropriate and foreign to what they needed to accomplish.
What is exciting about this project is the use of the natural resources of this area have not been wasted, so that the wood from the Hackberry has been used in several ways including to create sawdust to mix seed for the native plants that are now growing in the Meadow and as wood substrate for growing mushrooms. The Beach Museum of Art’s education director, Kathrine Schlageck uses the stump and slice of the trunk and a few boles to help students study the growth of the trees. By looking at the rings they can determine age of trees and what years were dry or wet.
Design is about the narrative of place. These trees were taken down at the Meadow, but not ultimately removed. They are just evolving into something else. It’s still a part of the site. It hasn’t left. It just changed.
The Meadow team extends a special thanks to Josh Cheek for his mentorship of students creating the benches. Deep thanks also to Dean Tim deNoble and Dean Wendy Ornelas for their support of the student’s design-build efforts.
Take some raw soil, mix it with a water-based medium such as honey, water or glycerine, and what do you get? If you guessed “soil paint,” you are correct.
Did you know that artists’ paints were all soil-based – until about 150 years ago chemists figured out other ways of creating the more commonly manufactured colors used today through machine-grown pigments. Most modern paints are created synthetically rather than from pigments derived from earth, soil, rock, metals, plants, mushrooms, insects and/or shellfish.
Artist and soil scientist Rhonda R. Janke could buy synthetically created paint to create her works. Why take this easy way out when she finds joy in creating paint from scratch – that is, from the earth. Depending on how much paint one needs and availability of materials, soil paint can be an economical alternative to purchasing paint, she said.
This is free information on making the following types of paint:
Water color paint
“Paint was mysterious and confusing to me until I did a lot of reading and experimenting. The mystery has turned into empowerment, but hasn’t lost its magic!” Rhonda states.
Empowered is a good word for the arts in general impact us – art makes us feel powerful, like we can do anything if we set our minds and focus on what we want to accomplish. The power of the earth is its ability to grow plants from seeds. The power of some artists is to take soil from the earth and mix it with other natural substances to create a medium for expression.
Rhonda invited children and adults to share in the “magic” a few weeks ago during an Open House celebrating the beginning stages of the Meadow project. Representatives from collaborating departments and local Boy Scout Troops 74 and 75 also were there and participating in the creation of soil-based paints.
At the time, we hadn’t yet planted seed. Rather than disturb the soil of the Meadow, Rhonda made a metaphorical connection by bringing three buckets of local soils along with yellow, orange, green and black pigments made from the soils of Italy, Spain and elsewhere. She brought other materials to complete the recipe for paint. Besides pigment, other essential ingredients for paint include a binder that makes it stick together and an adhesive to make it stick to canvas, wood or paper. Open House guests worked on paper, and the hope was that they began thinking about the physical link between art and nature – the fact that “soil can make great art, and has been used for centuries,” Rhonda said at the site.
What lay below our feet matters for the growth of plants as well as the wonder of materials for everyday use.
In her artist statement, she writes: “I feel that materials used can be part of the message… Making the paint and fiber is as important as making the image. I also see nature as a collaborator, not as a resource to be exploited. To read her complete artist statement, go to http://parideazafarmart.wordpress.com/biographic-data/.
“Making paint and using local materials will probably be a major part of my practice from now on, since it fits with my value system of using non-toxic, local materials, and also fits with my aesthetics of knowing where things come from, and how they are made, in addition to just seeing how they look,” Rhonda states.
The Meadow project is intended to bring us back to basics, too. One of the benefits of native plants includes no need for pesticides and fertilizers and less need for mowing. The creators of the Meadow intend this special place to be a meaningful compliment to the museum, and part of that is to provide an extension of the work of Beach educators to make meaningful connections among art, science and enjoyment of the natural world.