Hello everyone! As some of you may know I have been working on designing and painting the prairie mural of River Bend Nature Center’s north wall. The wall is coming along great and we are nearing the end of this project. However, before I go any further I would just like to say a big thank you to everyone who donated paint and helped make this project possible; as well as Anne Foxen, Johanna Beam, Erika Tipp, and Liz Brown for all you help over the last two Sundays with painting the foreground, detail, plants, and animals you all are amazing artists so thank you for helping make the ideas and designs come to life! Below I have included more information of what has been going into making this prairie wall come to life; as well as some sneak preview pictures of the wall. If you haven’t had the chance to come to River Bend Nature Center yet and see the wall I highly recommend it!
Designing the Prairie Mural
When it came to designing the Prairie Mural there were a lot of things I had to take into account. We already had the river mural on the west wall and a small prairie wood edge mural in the Kid’s Corner to the east of the wall so it made the most sense to incorporate these both into the prairie mural so it could flow almost seamlessly from one mural to the next. Additionally we have a beautiful large painting by Dan Milbert on this wall called “Pre-Settlement Spring” – Sandhill cranes, so I did not want to design a scene or landscape that clashed with this painting. Lastly we also have many mounted animals on the wall that we wanted to keep out on display so I also had to incorporate these into the wall, sounds easy enough right?
So how I designed the concept sketch and eventually the wall was taking the river from the river wall and having it flow on the wall from the west across the north wall to connect with the river on Milbert’s painting. I then extended the landscape of the forested hills in the back of Milbert’s painting on to the wall and connected it with the landscape in the background on the river wall. After this it got easy. By relying on my knowledge of prairie ecosystems I had a natural change in the landscape between oak savannah, mesic prairie, and wet prairie. I sketched forest along the river and transitioned it to oak savannah as the river bluff got steeper and blending into the rolling hills of the mesic prairie and into the depressions of the wet prairie. Lastly when it came to designing the overall concept of the wall other River Bend Staff and I moved some of the taxidermy around the wall to spots that made more sense for the habitat that species lived in.
Then came the fun part compiling lists of the plants and animals I have seen here at River Bend Nature Center or other restored prairies in Minnesota as well as what you would historically find in oak savannah, mesic prairie, and wet prairie. I then divided the mural up into sections and started dividing the different animals and plants into these sections on the wall that made the most sense to see them. This also made it easier to keep track of what volunteers were working where on the mural.
Painting the Landscape
After the overall design was approved I did a rough sketch on to the wall for where things went and then the painting began! I and Jason, River Bend’s Land & Facility Assistant, then primed and painted the wall the base sky blue. From there it was the process of mixing colors and giving color, shape, and shadow to the landscape; and depth to the sky with increasingly darker blues and clouds. Once the rolling prairie was achieved I moved on to the more complicated section of the mural adding the tree covered bluffs and the trees to the oak savannah as well as the river flowing behind them. The landscape has turned out great and I will continue to add touch ups and details here and there but it is the next step that I am really excited for that will really make the painting coming to life!
Adding the Plants and Animals
So now for the last two weeks Anne, Johanna, Erika, Liz, and I have been working on painting the foreground and adding the detailed plants and animals to the mural. My big project that is pretty much done now was painting a body for our bison head mount which if I do say so myself has turned out very realistic! Depending on where you stand looking at the wall it looks like the bison really is coming right out of the wall which is pretty incredible.
Erika, Annie, and Liz worked on adding the detailed grass in the mesic prairie under the bison. Additionally Erika and Liz did all the detailed flowers and plants under the bison, Erika also did a tiger swallowtail butterfly, and Anne painted the rocks and the thirteen-lined ground squirrel. Johanna took on the challenge of standing on a ladder painting a turkey vulture flying over the oak savanna which has turned out beautiful and so realistic!
Lastly I did the foreground painting of the wetland and today and tomorrow I will be adding some wetland plants to it. The project is almost done with only some more detailed animals and plants that need to be added and each day we work on the mural it becomes more realistic and beautiful! So I hope you come to River Bend Nature Center to check it out as we finish it or when it is done!