Multi-departmental Meadow project brings together art, science

Katie Goerl | Collegian The Meadow, a multi-departmental project showcasing native Kansas plants, is located just north of the Beach Museum of Art. Within the next three years, the area will be seeded with grasses and wildflowers, and two over-mature trees will be repurposed as seating, educational tools and sawdust added to seed mix. Pictured here on June 18, 2013.

Over the last few weeks, construction on the multi-departmental effort known as The Meadow has begun. Located between The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art and Danforth and All Faiths chapels, the area will incorporate native plants and function both as an educational exhibit and an aesthetic display.

Project leader Katie Kingery-Page, assistant professor of landscape architecture and regional and community planning, conceived The Meadow when asked by the Beach Museum’s Art Director Linda Duke to bring together landscape and the museum setting.

“Linda, her staff and I all imagined a landscape of native grasses and wildflowers as the perfect complement to the museum’s regionally-focused art collections,” Kingery-Page said. “[We] all have strong, personal connections to grassland landscapes and a deep understanding of the interplay between place and culture.”

The team selected the lawn just north of the Beach Museum not only for the site’s visibility in a high-traffic area on campus, but also to aesthetically emphasize the connection between art and science.

“We hope The Meadow will add value to museum visitors’ experiences,” Duke said. “Whether they visit the galleries first or the Meadow, we expect the one experience to trigger a richer experience with the other. Maybe examining the structure of a wildflower or seed head will attune someone’s attention to notice small choices made by an artist and vice versa.”

A K-State blog documents the project’s progress on its way to becoming a multi-purpose space, useful in various academic applications as well as functioning as an aesthetic and botanical showcase. The team hopes the project will ultimately become environmentally sustainable and require less human intervention.

The completed Meadow will contain pathways, seating created from two over-mature hackberry trees removed from the site, as well as around 50 species of native Kansas grasses and wildflowers. According to the blog, remnants of the hackberry trees will also be used as teaching tools and to grow shiitake mushrooms, and sawdust will be used in seed mixes for The Meadow. The site will utilize new trees so as to successfully incorporate shade and sun plants, like those found on the Konza and Flint Hills.

“Some people may have been schooled to think of them as ‘weeds’ because they are not domesticated,” Duke said.

Given the scope of the project planning and the team’s hopes for its future uses, The Meadow project includes collaboration from multiple departments, including architectural engineering, horticulture, agriculture, biology, mathematics and art.

Involvement in The Meadow has not been limited to professors and museum staff. Student participation has also played an important role in planning and constructing The Meadow.

From my knowledge, there has been a lot of support from various student groups interested in helping with the project,” said Troy Britt, senior in printmaking, in an email interview. “I’ve also been surprised at how many students will walk by while I am working outside and will stop and ask about the project or are interested in learning what The Meadow will have to offer.”

Participation also extends beyond K-State and into the Manhattan community. Boy Scout troops 74 and 75 have contributed greatly to the erosion control project implemented in The Meadow in order to prepare it for seeding. After learning about soil erosion from Kingery-Page, the troops collected old T-shirts and converted them into “erosion socks” stuffed with mulch and installed on location.

“This project combined taking care of the land and conservation and doing service for the community two things that Boy Scouts are about,” said Ben Schlageck, member of Troop 75.

Another group that took initiative in planning The Meadow was the Hummel family. Karen Hummel, a docent of the Beach Museum and Konza Prairie, learned of the project through Schlageck. She, her husband Steve Hummel and his sisters sponsored The Meadow and have been involved throughout the planning process. The Meadow will be dedicated to the memory of William C. Hummel and his wife Sara T. Hummel. Professor Hummel taught English at K-State from 1950 until his death in 1972.

“I liked the idea of the prairie and the natural progression of the species,” said Karen Hummel. “If you think about those two people who had five children and, at the time Mom died, 16 grandkids, and there are more now, and they’re going to have kids and so on, it just makes sense to me that there should be a natural memorial that keeps changing because the family keeps changing.”

Volunteers will also play a role in The Meadow. This Friday and Saturday, volunteers will meet on site for the first seeding of The Meadow. This seeding will include approximately 20 species of grasses and wildflowers, with more native plants to be added in the coming years. Volunteers will help mix the seeds, rake the soil and plant the seeds. Those who are interested in helping with the seeding can email and refer to The Meadow blog for more information.

I think the Meadow will reinforce the regional focus of the museum’s collecting mission,” Duke said. “This is our place and we want to know it, savor it and preserve it, artistically and in terms of environmental science.”

A number of professors from different departments are involved in the project. In addition to the connection between the Beach Museum’s artwork and natural landscapes, Matt Garcia, assistant professor of art, will apply digital arts to The Meadow with the purpose of making it more accessible to the public.

Andrew Bennett and Louis Crane, professors of mathematics, have developed methods to teach math using The Meadow. Kimberly Kramer, associate professor of architectural engineering, has developed methods of using The Meadow to teach and demonstrate engineering concepts.

“Using online interactive tools, the students will examine The Meadow plant structures and compare them to building structural elements,” Kramer said. “Solutions to engineering problems are all around us in nature — all we have to do is observe, analyze and find them.”

The Meadow is scheduled to be complete in three years but will require continual involvement due to its interactive nature.

The intact tallgrass prairie that surrounds Manhattan, Kansas, is incredibly rare and is a huge part of the area’s economy and history,” said Zakary Ratajczak, graduate student in biology, in an email interview. “It will be great to have a representation of this important ecosystem on our campus. For students that already have a connection to the Flint Hills, I hope that the meadow strengthens ties to that natural heritage. For students that do not have such connections, I hope the meadow will generate interest in the Flint Hills and motivate students to venture out and discover our region.”