Clare Doveton was an artist-in-residence at Prairieside Outpost in August 2018, as part of the first juried residency program. Clare lives and works in Lawrence, Kansas, and she is familiar with the Flint Hills through her active research in conservation and work with the Xerces Society, as well as her previous visits to Matfield Green. In December 2018, Clare exhibited some of her work created during this residency in a two-person show, Beyond the Horizon, at Weinberger Fine Art in Kansas City.
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The drive out to Matfield Green was just as dramatic as I remember. It’s hard not to continuously pull over and take pictures - though you can’t get the real sense of this place from a photo. You just have to come here.
My relationship to the world feels clearer out here. I thought a lot about that as I drove through the great expanse that is Chase County. I am pulled off autopilot, and am fully present and awake. Being alone out here helps jumpstart something too. There is something empowering about solitude. And I haven’t seen a soul since I turned off Highway 50. I imagine the people who live out here spend much of their time silent, just staring out onto all this. Like when you stand in front of the ocean.
Prairieside Cottage is a magical little world all of it’s own. Pulling in the driveway, my dog Luna and I were greeted by a flock of wild turkeys who paraded around the grounds during our stay. Each day we hike over to Matfield Station and the surrounding prairie, taking photos of monarch and drawing thistle. These purple goddesses tower before me, laced with crowns of butterflies and bees the size of your thumb. Thistle have been a source of strength for me during my stays out here. I even looked up the symbolism of this wildflower: Strength. Fights off melancholy. Protection. Healing. I needed all of that.
Conservation efforts in this area of the Flint Hills are extremely important. Butterflies and bees are disappearing due to habitat loss from plow-based agriculture, herbicides, and urban development. Native thistle are slowly being included in conservation programs as well, as in years past it has been left out of native seed packs and largely misunderstood. It is a favorite among the pollinators, attracting bees, butterflies and birds. I took an extended native plant conservation course the week before this trip, and am on a side mission here to also document monarch activity on native tall thistle for a pollinator ecologist at Xerces Society.
Inside the main cottage I worked on tall thistle silhouettes from the journeys of the day. Making these drawings have become an important meditation practice for me on these retreats to the prairie. Starting from small contour drawings and pictures I create these large prairie beings. Thistle show up when the earth needs healing. When animals have overgrazed or the soil has been overworked, thistle come in with its deep taproot and bring nutrients up from the deep.
For this residency I also set up an area for painting in the detached studio. There I worked on painting sketches and color studies for larger landscape paintings. I tried to capture the field from the studio - particularly in the early morning. Mornings are one of the most magical times for me out here. It’s impossible not to wake up for the sunrise so you can step out into the back with coffee just to be witness to all of this. If you look close, you find deer wading through this sea of grass, and every square inch of the prairie lights up and and slowly buzzes to life.
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