Thousands of acres of sand prairies still existed in Illinois before the mid-20th century, after which the invention of center-pivot irrigation made them profitable for agricultural use. Dedicated in 1970, the state’s Sand Prairie-Scrub Oak Nature Preserve gives a sense of what those historic sand prairies were like on the east side of the Illinois river south of Peoria. Little bluestem, the visually dominant grass in this scene, shares space in the sand prairie with goat’s rue, eastern prickly pear cactus, sand love grass, and porcupine grass. Blackjack oak, one of which is the focal point of this painting, is co-dominant in the surrounding sand savanna and dry sand forests with black oak, mockernut hickory and black hickory. The scattering of fire intolerant eastern red cedars and the dense understory in the surrounding oak groves suggests this prairie receives a lot less fire than it would have before European settlement.* The visual transition from the warm, fine textured grasses—where the cedars are invading—to the dark tree forms on the horizon line sets off a glowing prairie sunset. In contrast to those warm colors, a few lingering icy patches hint at the real temperature of the season.
Studio painting – September.
*I later learned that prescribed fire at this preserve has been restricted to promote a population of regal fritillary butterflies, a threatened species in Illinois.
May 1 - September 12, 2021
Chicago Botanic Garden
June 24, 2022 - February 5, 2023
Illinois State Museum at Dickson Mounds
10956 N. Dickson Mounds Rd. Lewistown, Illinois
June 9 - October 21, 2023
Illinois State Museum - Lockport Gallery
201 West 10th Street, Lockport, Illinois
Published in conjunction with Philip’s 2021 exhibition at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Contributors include: Philip Juras, artist and author; Hank Paulson, foreword; and Stephen Packard, essay. Published by Little Bluestem Press, Athens, GA, 2021.