I’m in Chicago right now, as the summer artist in residence at the Chicago Center for Book, Paper, and Print. I’m working on the summer Brain Washing from Phone Towers pamphlet, Tell the Bees. It’s going well, I’m happy with it. More about that soon.
Right now I want to talk about the Garfield Park Conservatory, a local greenhouse and public garden located on the west side of Chicago. I went and visited on Sunday:
In the 19th century all three of the parks on the West side had their own greenhouse; in the twentieth century the three collections were consolidated into one at Garfield Park, under the direction of Jens Jensen the chief landscape architect, who then designed and implemented what he described as a series of naturalistic landscape scenes under glass. This was a new idea the time, when most greenhouses housed a jumble of individual plants lacking an overall design or story.
Jenson was identified with something called the Prairie School of landscape architecture, which highlighted native midwest plants and materials, and encouraged a sense of wandering through a natural setting. The room that made me want to look him up was this one:
The fern room, which he designed in 1906, was designed to give visitors a glimpse of what Illinois might have looked like millions of years ago. Jensen designed the lagoon and the lush ferns to evoke a swampy, prehistoric version of Chicago. Originally called the Aquatic Room, it was designed to give visitors a glimpse of the types of plants growing in Illinois during a much earlier and much warmer geologic time. Perhaps the room offers a glimpse of the future as well.