Field art is Stan Herd’s specialty, and he’s bringing his expertise to Johnson County Community College in Overland Park.
By BETH LIPOFF
Special to The Star
“Kansa” will be a circle of stones from the Midwest with a pattern inside that Bruce Hartman, executive director of the college’s Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, described as an abstract human figure. The $45,000 work will be considered part of the Nerman’s collection.
Herd got the inspiration from a Native American petroglyph published in William Least Heat-Moon’s book, PrairyErth, about Chase County, Kan.
With help from a variety of student groups, the Lawrence-based artist will be installing the work outside on the west end of the campus. They’ll finish installing the stones by April 25, when it will be dedicated.
Thirty percent of the Nerman Museum’s collection is connected with regional artists, but this is the first work it will have by Herd. Both Hartman and Herd were excited about the joint venture.
“I’m interested in seeing how this evolves,” Herd said. “The most important legacy of an artist is not the image or the artifact they create. It’s the relationships they develop in their artistic endeavors.”
Each shape formed by the stones will have different plants growing in it, planted and partially chosen by the college’s horticultural students. Other student groups helping in the project are from JCCC’s Kansas Studies Institute, Center for American Indian Studies and the Center for Sustainability.
“We tried to identify a theme, a topic — something that would draw the college community’s attention to indigenous Kansas stone, grasses and plants,” said James Leiker, director of the Kansas Studies Institute. “(We have) native students who appreciate the attempt to try to produce a work of art that’s going to show ... what was here before Overland Park.”
The plants will change each year, partly at the discretion of the horticultural students who will be planting them, and may include corn, maize, native tobacco, buffalo grass and more. Leiker said the college is encouraging faculty members from all disciplines to use the piece as a teaching tool.
“The planting beds can be taken up every spring and replanted. It will become (the students’) artwork, in a way,” Herd said.
Once all the plants are installed and blooming, the college plans to hire a pilot to take aerial photographs of the work, Leiker said.
Because of a gentle slope in the field containing the work, the complete project will also be visible from the ground at a distance, according to Hartman. Students and members of the public will also be welcome to walk through it when it’s finished.
“This is a departure from acquiring a painting or a photograph. It’s site-specific — it provides exposure to an entirely different approach to art-making. It’s unusual you would have all these different departments coming together to work on the fruition of this project,” Hartman said.
Herd, who grew up in Protection, Kan., a small town about 60 miles southeast of Dodge City, said American Indian themes have always been part of his life.
“We had arrowheads and buffalo skulls, so when I got into the earthworks, I wanted to pay a tribute to Satanta, the Kiowa warrior chief,” Herd said. “I felt his spirit on the ground in my hometown, in the farmstead.”
After studying art at Wichita State University, he found he liked doing larger-scale works, like painting murals on grain elevators. So far, he’s made about 50 earthworks like the one at JCCC, some artistic and some commercial.
Some of Herd’s other earthworks in Kansas include a portrait of Amelia Earhart in Atchison and a medicine wheel at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence. With Kansa, he wants people to think of how the land used to look.
“We would like for people to look around and imagine the landscape without any of the buildings or the freeway and envision what the natural prairie might have looked like,” Herd said.