Friday, October 29, 2010

Homestead's Artist-in-Residence: Homestead Prairie Gleanings

By Judy Thompson
2010 Artist-in Residence
Homestead National Monument of America
Cottonwood Cows:  While at the Homestead, I encountered triple digit temperatures.  The hot, humid prairie offered little relief from these extreme conditions except for the few sparse cottonwoods scattered throughout the landscape.  Many times on the prairie, trees became personalities which were known throughout the area for their distinct ability to give shade to both man and beast.

I am a visual artist who is fascinated with the beauty and history of the Great Plains.  Through my watercolor landscapes, I attempt to capture not merely a likeness of my subject, but also a “sense of place.”  The Artist-in-Residence Program provided me with the unique opportunity to explore the history of the homesteaders while being immersed in the native tallgrass prairie.   My goal was to create a series of watercolor paintings depicting the prairies during the time of the first homesteaders.  My time at the monument included researching existing photos and records, as well as taking my own photos, and creating onsite sketches of the park environment.  These references were used to create compelling compositions of the homestead era.

Distant Harvest:  In my research, I came across many accounts of how the homestead life affected children.  For some children, moving to the prairie was an exciting adventure. However, many children soon realized that prairie life meant isolation.  Future dreams of careers as teachers, doctors, etc., were kept in check by their ability to receive education, and by the expectation for them to stay and work the family farm.   "Distant Harvest" speaks to the many sacrifices made by homesteader children.

Of the many interpretive themes of the Homestead National Monument, I am particularly interested in the change of ecosystem from the native tallgrass prairie to cultivated farmland.  I am also inspired by the individuals and families who seized the opportunity to settle the West through the Homestead Act.  My hope is to put these themes together into a series of watercolor paintings which will tell a visual story of this revolutionary event in our nation’s history.

Prairie Impressions:  Speaks to the colors and mystique of the prairie landscape.  Subtle colors and textures give a peaceful mood to the flowering, flowing grasses.

In October of 2010, I am scheduled to give a solo exhibition in Brookings, South Dakota.  I want to entitle my show “Prairie Gleanings” and will include pieces of work from my time on the prairie at the Homestead National Monument.

Trail's End: The perils of homesteading were great. Many who tried were stopped by disease, lack of food, natural disaster and poor planning. Hopes, dreams and lives were often shattered. The prairie landscape was inviting yet hostile to those who tried to tame it. However, through time, it is the natural prairie which survives.

Uninterrupted time to observe, draw, and paint a subject is an artist’s dream.  The Artist-in-Residence Program provided me with the exciting opportunity to experience the prairie in a very personal way and challenged me to capture the beauty of the prairie through watercolor. During my time in residency, I created an art journal (sketch book) of plants, animals, landscapes, and skyscapes discovered at the park. I included in this journal my impressions, ideas, and notes.  This journal will provide me with artistic inspiration for years to come. 

Editor’s note: Judy was in residence August 1 through 15, 2010.

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