Stories in the Land: Tales of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum

Illustration of Curtis Prairie restoration through history, by Liz Anna Kozik

Illustration of Curtis Prairie restoration through history, by Liz Anna Kozik

The Arboretum is rich in history, research, and beauty. Liz Anna Kozik, a graduate student in Design Studies, has created visual stories of Arboretum past and present for her Master of Fine Arts exhibition “Stories in the Land: Tales of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum,” on view April 22 through June 8. Tapestries in the Visitor Center, comics to read, and signs placed around the Arboretum grounds will offer visitors fresh and engaging ways to discover the scientific work of the Arboretum. Kozik’s primary focus is the history of Curtis Prairie—the first prairie restoration in the world.

Kozik describes her visual approach to natural history, design, and research in her project proposal:

“When most people picture the grand concept of ‘Nature,’ it’s all mountains and waterfalls, endless forest vistas where no human has marred the land. Such grandiose sights are few and far between here in Madison. It sometimes seems like nature is something that only happens Somewhere Else. Yet this is a false dichotomy, nature is all around us. Our nature is that of seemingly small things: the dandelion in the sidewalk crack, a red‐tailed hawk standing guard on the roof of a tall building, the stubborn compass plant growing along a disused train track, a remnant of historic prairie. This divide between the nature we treasure and the land we actually live in marks the serious alienation we have from the environment as a culture. It is my goal to create accessible art that celebrates and educates about these environments we actually live in. If we can learn to tend the landscapes we live among, climate change stops being about overwhelming, distant ice caps and rainforests, and instead becomes a tangible place where we can all make a real difference.

“The act of shifting academic research—which often only exists in text—into imagery can bring about new understandings and audiences, both academic and otherwise. This is the way I feel my work can make a difference.

“For example, Amy Alstad has spent the past four years researching populations of Wisconsin prairie remnants that were first surveyed in the 1940s by John Curtis. Curtis, namesake of the Arboretum’s prairie, was an important figure in both the history of the Arboretum and the field of ecological restoration. My telling of the story of the Arboretum includes illustrating both the history of Curtis’s research and Alstad’s findings.

“I firmly believe that research needs to reach beyond academia, especially within a public university like ours. The core of my practice is the belief that awareness and love for the landscapes we live in will help us view land as a part of who we are. Environmental psychology posits that if we can tie land to our notions of self, then caring for our land is a natural part of self-preservation. By celebrating the land we live in, I hope to invite viewers to delight in and treasure the landscapes we call home.”

Liz Anna Kozik shares stories of Midwestern landscapes through comics and weaving. Prior to arriving at the UW, she worked in commercial design. As an artist, she now uses her design skills to highlight environmental concerns. For more about her work, visit her website.

Kozik has received generous support from the UW–Madison Arts Institute’s David and Edith Sinaiko Frank Graduate Fellowships for a Woman in the Arts, as well as the School of Human Ecology Schurch-Thomson Award.

*** Updated 4/20/17: The exhibit name and dates have changed.

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