Since 2013, with paint brush and camera in hand, I’ve had the pleasure of exploring tallgrass prairie remnants and restorations across Illinois. Beginning with preserves in the Chicago area, I’ve made over a dozen trips from my home in Athens, Georgia, to explore the state’s prairie ecosystems – native grasslands being one of my favorite subjects. I’ve found it both challenging and rewarding to find the far-flung preserves that hold most of the .01% remaining of Illinois’ original prairie. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the Prairie State and have become very fond of its landscapes and the people I’ve met along the way. I’ve also found that Illinois, the state my mother grew up in, is a surprisingly wonderful destination for nature as well as culture.
Visiting and painting prairies from the Wisconsin border to the southern end of the state has been a truly fulfilling experience, as has revisiting them in the studio on larger canvases. I have explored many types of prairies, from wet black-soil prairies to dry hill prairies, and correspondingly, many variations in topography, species composition, and enclosure by trees. This exhibit assembles the most compelling scenes from my explorations, moments where I was awed by the natural beauty before me and fascinated by the ecology and history of the place. The paintings are loosely arranged around the themes that have most captivated me: flora, wide-open skies, seasons, agents of biodiversity, wetlands, presettlement history, and woodlands.
Throughout this project I’ve been guided by several remarkable prairie conservationists. I am grateful to them and those who came before them for all they’ve done to bring this important grassland ecosystem back to life, not only making it possible for me to picture the prairie, but also ensuring that all of us can reconnect with this uniquely beautiful ecosystem. These paintings celebrate their efforts while inviting all who enjoy nature’s beauty to join in, to set foot in a nearby preserve where the state, county, or a non-profit has restored the prairie. I think visitors to these places will find, as I have, that the glorious diversity of plants and animals that make up one of the most storied ecosystems in North America is worthy of our attention.