Painted Prairie’s Landscape Architects, Diane Lipovsky, and Craig Vickers of Civitas walk us through the inspiration behind the collaboration between Civitas and Black Birch Studio for the design of the Hearth Wall at High Prairie Park.
“I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.” — Geronimo
When we first saw High Prairie Park with the sunset silhouetting the Rocky Mountains to the west and spilling over the seemingly endless prairie, it took our breath away. It was also about 12 degrees. In that moment, we decided that the piece of art we were to create needed to capture the spirit of High Prairie Park in the same way that a piece of a verse can so eloquently capture a moment.
“There was only the enormous, empty prairie, with grasses blowing in waves of light and shadow across it, and the great blue sky above it, and birds flying up from it and singing with joy because the sun was rising. And on the whole enormous prairie, there was no sign that any other human being had ever been there.” — Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Grasses Wall — East Side
The prairie as seen from afar is a monolithic mass of sky and rippling green-gold grasses — dwarfing all who cross it. We chose to get very close to the grasses. To represent them as individuals in a complex system — exploring their rich variety and perfect composition. To better understand the unique grasses of the prairie, Craig Vickers offers his perspective where many of these beauties are highlighted in steel on “The Grasses Wall.”
These grasses are the backbone of the prairie that runs from the foothills to all over the midwest. Naturally, these grasses roots are very deep and form incredible root structures that can get to three to 15 feet deep. It’s a very tough system of plants, but delicate at the same time. There are many other species, of course, these are the highlights of the grasses planted near the wall.
Blue Gramma is a short grass about a foot tall, thin elegant blades and a bunch of grass that forms a fountain shape. The seed heads reach approximately 18 inches tall. It’s a warm-season grass which means it stays green in the heat of summer and wakes up from dormancy in late May. Seed heads develop early and grow to create a flag shape then ripen to curl. It has a gorgeous shape, and we could have created an amazing pattern with just this one species of grass alone.
Buffalo Grass is similar to Blue Gramma, but it is shorter and more like a carpet. This grass often grows together and it is hard to tell each individual grass plant apart until it produces seed.
Side Oats Gramma is also similar to Blue Gramma, but it is a little taller and the seeds form on a straight stem and the seeds stack on one side of the stem.
Little Blue Stem is a gorgeous warm season bunch grass that has a fountain-like form and thin elegant leaves. This grass grows to approximately two feet tall and with the seed stalks it can reach over three feet tall. It develops tall seed stalks in late summer that look like the grass blades but thicker, they flop all over the place in all directions then the seed heads open up to become white and feathery. It is particularly striking when it turns red-orange in the fall.
Big Bluestem is similar to Little Blue Stem except the seed stalks are fewer and a little more gangly in form but tall and striking. The seed head is known for its turkey foot shape when it ripens and gets the same red-orange fall color, and grows to approximately five feet tall.
Prairie Drop Seed is another grass that is similar to Little Bluestem in texture and form, but its seed heads are panicled — each seed head has a central stalk and branches that develop seeds that dangle. It is a light and airy cloud-like grass.
Indian Grass is more like Big Bluestem and the two grasses are often found together. It is a tall grass, coarse, and pushes up a seed stalk that resembles a pipe cleaner.
Switch Grass is more of a coarse clump grass with a seed head similar to Prairie Drop Seed. Its panicles with branchlets and little seeds hang on the stems. It also has a cloud-like appearance and is approximately three feet tall.
The Prairie Quilt — West Side
For so many, life on the prairie was concerned with making a home in the prairie and making the prairie home. As we explored design solutions for the west side of the wall, we looked for the common themes that link those who have made the prairie their home. This side of the wall acts as a back for barbecues and picnic tables, becoming essentially the hearth wall. For the human dwellers on the prairie, the hearth has historically been the place to find warmth, safety, comfort, and food. A gathering place to tell and retell the stories of adventures and ancestors.
Fragments of vessels, textiles, hunting tools, and agricultural equipment, as well as the noble wildlife that roams the plains supplied us with design motifs to create a large story quilt out of steel. These design motifs include:
Cultural symbols of the prairie — such as textiles and woven patterns used for blankets, quilts, and apparel. The Colorado quilt square, compass points, the running circle representing the wheel, the irrigation pivot, the windmill, and the sun.
Animal symbols — such as prairie chickens, antelope, bison, coyotes, and prairie skippers.
Plant symbols representing the enduring vision of the prairie. Its native grasses, the yucca representing edible plants that sustained inhabitants and the crop plants represented by the wheat motif.