Beach Museum organizes project to digitally preserve noted Smithsonian
Institute traveling exhibition on tallgrass prairiesK-State
Communications and Marketing
|"Red Prairie and Bison," an
acrylic on canvas by Patricia DuBose Duncan in 1990, was a gift to Kansas
State University's Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art by former Sen.
Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker. Duncan created a national traveling
exhibition on tallgrass prairies that helped draw attention to the need to
When artist/photographer Patricia DuBose Duncan put together a national
traveling exhibition on tallgrass prairies, she was widely credited with helping
draw attention to the need to preserve the dwindling ecosystem.
project organized by Kansas State University's Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art
is preserving the
exhibit Duncan designed more than 40 years ago to raise awareness about
tallgrass prairies. These prairies are home to unique plant and animal species
and soil microbiomes. Scientists estimate that only 4 percent of the nation's
tallgrass prairies are left today, which includes the Konza Prairie Biological
Station near Manhattan, a National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological
Research site administered by the Nature Conservancy and Kansas State
Living in Kansas City in the late 1960s and 1970s, Duncan
formed friendships with researchers such as E. Raymond Hall, a zoologist, at the
University of Kansas, and Lloyd Hulbert, an ecologist, at Kansas State
University. They and others helped her understand the importance of the prairie
and the urgency of an effort to ensure that parts of it would be protected.
Duncan began to use her camera to tell this story and rally support for
preservation. Over time, she convinced other artists and prominent figures to
share her vision. Photojournalist, author and filmmaker Gordon Parks was one;
former Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall was another.
1971-1976, with support from the Hallmark Corp. in Kansas City and other
benefactors, and under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution in
Washington, D.C., Duncan designed a traveling exhibition. "The Tallgrass
Prairie: An American Landscape" eventually traveled to all 50 states and drew
the attention of both the public and legislators. In 1996, U.S. Sen. Nancy
Landon Kassebaum Baker of Kansas introduced successful legislation to create the
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City, Kansas.
panels from Duncan's Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition most recently
have been stored at the Riley County Historical Museum in Manhattan. To preserve
these historic artifacts, the Beach Museum of Art organized an effort to capture
them digitally. Staff members from the Beach and Riley County museums worked
with David Mayes, Kansas State University photographer, to make a
high-resolution image of each panel. The Beach Museum plans to offer these
images to the public along with a large number of resources about the Konza
Prairie, the museum's regionally focused art collection and its curated garden
of native plants called The Meadow.
The panels will be featured through
an interactive touch-screen table that will be installed in the gallery-level
lobby of the museum in spring 2015. Kansas State University's Prairie Studies
Initiative, landscape architecture and regional & community planning
department and the Student Government Association's Green Action Fund have
partnered to develop the project.
On Oct. 9, the Beach Museum welcomed
Duncan and her husband, architect Herb Duncan, for a celebration of her work as
artist and environmental leader. Standing before "Red Prairie and Bison," a
large painting rendered with brilliant cadmium red that was a gift to the Beach
Museum from Sen. Kassebaum Baker, Duncan shared memories with an audience of
museum and McCain Auditorium supporters. The evening culminated with a private
performance for the group by Native American flute master Robert Mirabal and the
String Quartet Ethel in the old stone barn at the university's Konza Prairie
The Beach Museum holds 98 works — prints, paintings,
and photographs — by Duncan in its permanent collection. The Duncans now make
their home in Topsham, Maine.