In the summer of 2015 I was selected to create the ornaments for the Iowa Tree that would be part of the National Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington DC. The project was commissioned by the National Park Service in partnership with State Art Councils nationwide.
This year is the 150th anniversary of the National Park Service so they asked that artists create a series of ornaments honoring the national parks in their states. Iowa has three national parks, the Herbert Hoover Historic Home, the Effigy Mounds, and the Silo’s & Smokestacks Heritage area. There are also two historic trails maintained by the NPS – the Lewis & Clark Trail and the Mormon Pioneer Trail. While initially drawn to the Effigy Mounds – I backpacked in the near by Yellow River State Park two summers ago with Jason – I felt it would be disingenuous and offensive to create works about a culture I am not a part of, not to mention a taboo to include any of the icons related to these monumental ceremonial mounds. So looking at the other parks, it was the last one I thought would be of interest that ended up sparking my imagination.
Why Herbert Hoover’s Historic home?
President Herbert Hoover’s birth place is surrounded by the 81 acre Tallgrass Prairie. One of the highlights of his career was his continual push towards conserving the land for public use. In 1971, the National Park Service restored the Tallgrass Prairie to be a monument to the grassland that had nearly vanished by the time Hoover’s grandparents settled there in 1854. “Prior to the settlement of West Branch, prairie covered 85 percent of Iowa” (NPS website).
Due to the excellent documentation of the project, I was able to find a comprehensive list of the grasses and wildflowers used to restore the prairie. Using that list I selected 12 plants and created ornaments based on each one. I transferred pen and ink drawings onto transparent vellum and used that for the basis of an encaustic beeswax painting. The resulting work was then encased in the ornament which, when hung on the lit tree, appeared luminescent.
Going to DC
While the project did not pay for me to visit DC, it coincided nicely with a vacation we were already planning, having no particular destination in mind, we easily switched to visiting DC. We were able to attend the Tree Lighting Ceremony and go back later in the week to view and document the actual tree. DC was amazing and inspiring. A week straight of walking 12 miles a day seeing art that blew my mind and inspired my future — all for free because there is no admission fee for any of the Smithsonian institutions. The whole thing rekindled my enthusiasm for civil rights, american history, and the personal responsibility of that phrase “civic duty”.
National Tree Lighting Ceremony | Eclipse Park | Washington DC | December 2015
White House National Park Archive | Washington DC