Of the Earth . . . a Pop–up Show

Patsy R. Davis spent over a month preparing and arranging the art for this week’s pop–up show installed at the College of DuPage. For this exhibition, Patsy combined her works of art created with various media —  photography, inorganic welded scrap-metal sculptures and organic roots. Through her art, Patsy wants to share her passion to honor, celebrate and preserve the bounty of this earth.

Linne Staley and Patsy R. Davis

Linne Staley and Patsy R. Davis (the artist) enjoy a ‘selfie’ taken with the roots!


Patsy has been an organic gardener for years. As she worked in her garden and pulled up her excess plant roots, she began to discover how different and diverse each root was from another, even among the same plant species. Each root essentially shares the same common purpose, yet Patsy was awed by the sustenance they provide and their individual beauty and strength.


A large installation featuring roots.

My favorite! A large root installation that spanned the exhibit floor.

Roots have also been featured as Patsy’s photographic subjects. Using an antiquarian pre–film photo process from the 19th century (wet–plate collodion tintypes) Patsy creates photogram images of her roots. The roots lend themselves to some unique asymmetrical and contrasty abstract designs. “Digging in the earth and moving my hands through the

soil creates a strong connection with the earth and the process is very meditative for me”, Patsy explains.

The meditative experience not only comes from working in the earth, but also from welding materials that come from the earth. Patsy finds it very satisfying to be able to reuse materials as she creates her art, rather than wasting or consuming additional resources.

As expressed through her art work, Patsy believes in respecting all life forms, celebrating diversity and believes in individuals and the commonality of all. In the future Patsy would like to take the connection to earth one step further, and create relationships with individuals who do conservation work. Great show Patsy! To see more of Patsy’s work, check out Patsy R. Davis Eco Artist.


A welded scrap metal sculpture.




Planting Seeds in Winter?

by Dee Hudson Photography

Yes, when you’re planting prairie seeds, December can be a great time to sow them!! Native seeds actually need many freezes and thaws to soften up their hard seed coats so they are ready to germinate in the spring.

On the morning of December 4th, I helped Jay Stacy, a land steward at Nachusa Grasslands, hand–sow seeds onto a problem area in his prairie field.

A hand holding prairie seeds

Over the past seven months, Jay (with my help also!) has hand–collected seeds from all over Nachusa’s restored prairie fields, to use for this ‘Mullein Hill’ planting. The seed mix we sowed contained over 40 different species, many species that are rare in plantings (conservative species) and many species that will colonize quickly and then give way as the rare species become established.


I asked Jay what was in his seed mix and he said, “Leadplant, dropseed, cream wild indigo, pale purple coneflower, western sunflower, coreopsis palmata, yellow coneflower, shooting stars, prairie violets, silky aster and many other species.”

The 16 acres surrounding this hill were planted into prairie in 2012, but Jay left this small fifth of an acre unplanted due to all the brush and tree limbs laying across the slope. Jay cleared the hill of stumps and branches in 2013, but in the meantime, mullein, an invasive non–native species, took over!! Boy, did these plants ever take over! See all the green rosette–shaped plants covering the hill and slope as far as you can see? There are hundreds and hundreds of these non–native plants in just this small area._MG_8465

Mullein grows well in sandy, dry areas and this hill was a perfect place for it to thrive. To keep this biennial from making seeds, Jay mowed the mullein down three separate times this past summer (2014). Now, Jay and I are planting some competition for the mullein and once these seeds sprout in the spring, the mullein won’t have a chance at survival.

This mullein hill is shaped irregularly, so Jay used an inventive planting method (known as the Schmadeke Techniqueto insure that we did not miss any spots as we scattered out the seeds. First we ringed the outside perimeter with bright colored flags. Then we stood next to a starting flag and spaced ourselves about five feet apart. We began to spread our seeds while walking towards the next flag. When we arrived at the second flag, Jay pulled it out and handed it to me, and I plunked it in the ground to my left, thus creating a tighter circle to follow the next sweep around the hill.

I’m excited to visit ‘Mullein Hill’ next spring and see what has sprouted. We will probably need to give the hill a new name!

Butterfly Survives Illinois Winters

by Dee Hudson Photography

As the temperatures drop below freezing, I find myself wondering where this Mourning Cloak butterfly will stay during Illinois’s cold winter. Perhaps it will find a cozy tree hole, a warm hollow log or nestle in a space behind some tree bark. This butterfly better find a good shelter, because rather than migrating to someplace warmer, this butterfly stays here in Illinois for the whole winter. Brrrr! How is survival possible? Well, this butterfly has a high level of sugar in its cells that act like antifreeze, allowing the Mourning Cloak to survive without freezing. Very cool (or should I say ‘very warm’)!


It was June 21,st and I was pulling unwanted sweet clovers from a restored prairie planting at Nachusa Grasslands. As I neared some common milkweed in bloom, I first spotted this large brownish butterfly feeding on the pink flowers. Sometimes they feed on the flower nectar, but normally they drink tree sap — especially oak sap. I had my camera with me, the light was soft and pretty and the Mourning Cloak cooperated for a few shots before flying away.

I was amazed with the perfect condition of the butterfly’s wings. I’m guessing the Mourning Cloak was probably newly emerged from its chrysalis, because in Illinois, the adults tend to emerge in June and July. The temperatures on the prairie in the summer months can be pretty hot, so the Mourning Cloak has a unique way to survive. The butterfly finds a coolish resting place, then lowers its metabolic rate and takes a nice summer nap until the temperatures are more reasonable. By spending dormant time in both the summer and the winter, this butterfly actually lives over ten months — a long life for a butterfly!

Hike through the prairie in late March or April and watch for the Mourning Cloaks, for they will probably be the first butterfly you see emerge in the spring. Surprisingly the butterfly may even be seen flying over the snow on a warm day. Let me know if you spot any!