Friday, January 30, 2009

Finally Got It Done...

Well I finally got it done. My web site was nearly 7 years old and in bad need of revision and redesign. It was cluttered and neglected; I knew it but was too busy with other business to do anything about it. I kind of liken this to the plumber who's home has leaky faucets, or the electrician who has an exposed box in a wall - waiting for a finish!

I've cleaned up the old design and simplified it; it's now much simpler yet efficient (I hope). I've added more paintings from the past year. And I've also added nearly all the note card sets I offer.

To view artwork or cards just go through the "Our Artwork" link, this page will give you linked cues of the "Photography Gallery", the "Originals Gallery", the "Limited Editions Gallery" and the "Studio Gift Shop". Each is self explanatory except perhaps the Studio Gift Shop - it has the Note Cards and some of the less expensive and smaller Open Edition Prints. The Note Cards are accessed by clicking on the Note Card image, the others are more obvious.

Give the site a quick run through if you like, and any feedback is appreciated! I am trying to make it out here in the "wilderness" and any help is always appreciated! Thank you!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Can't Hold A Candle To It!

The morning light at Prairie Hill Farm never ceases to amaze me; throw a frigid winter into the mix and it becomes almost surreal. I liken it to those amazing artists of Alaska like Fred Machetanz and others of the upper reaches of Canada that painted "frozen air", as I like to call it. There's a characteristic of sub zero temperatures and early light that I'm a total failure in describing. It fires neurons in my brain that help me to mentally "feel" and relive this's almost like a taste you can experience, but are inadequate to convey to others.

This morning's light was like that; almost as if a frozen veil, so thin as to not actually materialize, hung over the sky and valley. It was clear and sub-zero, yet almost inviting like a siren. The sun rose as a cadmium red orb you dared to look into.

Georgie and I were sitting in the kitchen having breakfast, looking out across the Waterman Creek valley when she spotted movement on the opposite hillsides near a plum thicket we often watch Deer moving about. I glassed the hilltop thicket and there were 3 Coyotes gingerly making their way across the frozen snow slopes.

We've often watched "breakfast" Coyotes from the kitchen, it doesn't happen often enough to make us complacent though, and to watch 3 at once was a real event! The 'yotes made their way down one draw and disappeared to reappear on the next crest where they jumped a barbed wire fence and made their way down another ravine, giving us our last look.

I'd like to say every morning was as eventful in the winter but it's mostly just the yard birds trying to survive, not so much high drama across the landscape. But high drama does occur here!

(Dew laden Monarch at Cayler Prairie in NW Iowa)

Last night we watched NOVA which is a PBS program worth watching anytime. The program last night was "The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies", a story about North America's Monarch Butterflies. We've long been mesmerized by the Monarchs as they arrive and leave here each year. In a blog this past fall I included a Monarch migration video from the acreage here.

We've long been concerned with the species on this continent, with the political and social uncertainty in the butterfly's winter range of Mexico. I wrote of this concern about 4-5 years back in my journal "A Tallgrass Journal" (scan down for the article). It was just 2-3 years ago that illegal logging in the winter roosting grounds in Mexico helped contribute to a huge die off in that refuge.The loss of the refuge's trees and a record cold winter storm killed millions of Monarchs, the very foundation for the next year's brood. It was reported that 80% of that population died.

The Monarch is an amazing creature and it's life is equally amazing; you can't hold a candle to it - nothing can equal this 1/5 ounce creature's feats!

I'd really recommend watching the NOVA production if you can.
If you weren't able to see it last night, try going online and watching it there; it's available for online viewing here.

If you are interested in subscribing to the quarterly "A Tallgrass Journal" and general articles about the Tallgrass Prairie and the prairie here at Prairie Hill Farm, simply email me and I'll put you on the mailing list. The free web based Journal has been published since 2002.

It may be about four months before the Monarchs return to Prairie Hill Farm, but I'm really looking forward to it! Thanks PBS!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Back to Fall

(The Medford Avenue Bridge, oil on mounted canvas, 12X16)

Smack in the middle of winter should bring inspiration for winter landscapes shouldn't it? Well I have had the urge for doing some winter landscape photography work but not painting...I'm not really sure why but maybe because I'm mentally stuck in "nicer" weather (sorry snow lovers).

One season I have never painted is Fall. Well, with one disclaimer, I painted a picture of my Grandfather picking corn back when I was 17...that was an autumn seasonal painting, but I really can't remember ever painting an autumn landscape. Thinking of that even seems odd to me because autumn was my favorite season for most of my life.

I finally finished my first fall landscape painting, it's of an old iron suspension bridge down in the Loess Hills...a location Georgie and I passed through this past fall on a photo excursion of sorts. I like old things and old bridges are kinda cool I think. This bridge has the nicest patina, an almost iron oxide red color to it and the contrast of the bridge with the autumn sky and the landscape just shouted "stop!" to us. I thought immediately that this had to be painted, so here we go.

I enjoyed this painting process...finally got to do an autumn scene and I love the color of that season so much. But I found I don't care a lot for the process of depicting man made objects with detail like this bridge; it was just too confining or restrictive...the shadow and the bridge planks were about the only liberating features. But sometimes you have to take the good with the not so fun to make something work.

*I'm not totally sure how to get back to the Medford Avenue bridge...I believe we were in Monona County at the time, but maybe our Loess Hills friends would help clue us in. Georgie and I usually keep pretty close tabs on where we are during these trips, but we were having so much fun we maybe weren't as careful that time?! (* I just located notes that Georgie wrote during that trip...see she knows what's goin' on! Medford Ave bridge is just north off of F50 4mi N and 1/2 mi E of Missouri Valley in Harrison County.)

With 30 mph NW winds howling through Prairie Hill Farm this winter afternoon at 10 degrees, I'm keeping warm thinking of sunny autumn days...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Now That's Neat...

Tropical weather (it's 26 F "above" zero this morning!) is bringing on a celebratory feeling here at Prairie Hill Farm! I can almost feel the spring breeze and see the first bumblebees of the season seeking out the early flowers on the prairie remnant in our north pasture. Sure it's a stretch, but without these bouts of spring fever we'd almost never make it this early in the winter! Something always triggers a spat of spring fever for me, in this instance it was a phone call.

Georgie and I had spent about 3 months afield late in 2007, visiting natural and cultural sites in NW Iowa...this was for a grant project called Watchable Wildlife of NW Iowa. Our job was to spend each day, or several days, visiting specific sites and videotaping and photographing. Poor us! HA! We loved every minute of it!

Other folks were working on the scripting and idea of the project. The project was administered through the Iowa Lakes RC&D, overseen by Jeff Kestel; the creative folks were two area naturalists - one stationed at the Prairie Heritage Center
(Charlene Elyea), and the other at the Lost Island Prairie Wetland Nature Center (Miriam Patton).

The project was worked into a web site of 39 natural and cultural areas, divided into 3 categories - a Glacial Trail loop, a Prairie Pot-hole Birding loop, and a Pioneer History loop. I was asked to design a web site around these loops, to video tape each site and to photograph the sites and flora, fauna, or whatever other characteristics the sites contained. A typical page on the site would introduce a specific site, give the history of the site, a description of the location, and driving directions (pop-up google maps and GPS). There may also be an "Educational Box" that can be used by teachers to explore more facets of the particular site, and there is also a video of the site.

The site's video could be one of two types. We had individuals that were experienced with the site and it's specifics - they were taped on camera talking about the site's characteristics. Or we would just do a composite editing of an overview of the site that would give the viewer a "flavor" of what the site was like, and what may be there.

A good example of a "site" page, this one from the Glacial Trail loop, is the Freda Haffner Kettlehole site page. Scott Moats of the Iowa Nature Conservancy speaks on camera and shows the kettlehole, speaks about the glacial/geological aspects and the wildlife. The text of the page also has pop-up images highlighted to illustrate plants at this location.

There is also a photo gallery page, a "Tip" page (tips on viewing wildlife), and a links page. The links page is loaded with stuff, even a separate video page and a wildlife joke page...OK that one was my idea, I have a silly sense of humor I guess.

I've briefly mentioned this website in this blog before and I guess the only reason I'm mentioning it again is because of the phone call. The web site creator (me) and the agency administering it (Iowa Lakes RC&D) have been given an "Outstanding Media Award" for our work through the Iowa Association of Naturalists and the Iowa Conservation Education Council! Now that's neat! Of course this whole thing would have never happened if Charlene and Miriam hadn't had the original idea in the first place!

Another neat thing (the one that really brings on the bouts with spring fever) is that the website project has just recently received another grant to continue the work and expand to more places in NW Iowa! Hopefully Georgie and I will get to go out and have more fun this summer!

If you're stuck inside and want to kick around the timber or prairies, or just see what's out there, try checking out Watchable Wildlife in NW Iowa and enjoy yourself...who knows maybe you'll find some spots that really peak your interest and can look forward to visiting in person when the mood strikes you!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


No, I'm not Norwegian...Georgie is though, and although she doesn't exactly say it like that, she certainly makes it known "It's cold out there!" Well, I suppose it's not so bad compared to many winters past here or say, North Dakota or N Minnesota...International Falls was 36 below this morning compared to our mere 6 below (we are supposed to get near an actual 26 below tomorrow morning though).

The sun dogs were in full display this morning at sunrise, like so many cold mornings we experienced back before Christmas. I've been missing so many photo opportunities of sun dogs this winter that I decided to quick suit up and plow out to the south pasture fence a fast as I could to at least record this one.
I must admit the landscape wasn't exactly adding or contributing to making the image anything unusual or particularly inspiring; I guess if I have aspirations for a landscape image that'd hold up technically and artistically on it's own, I'd better get up before dawn and drive to a more eloquent location and hope for a good sun dog event...or maybe just file this all in the back of my mind for a future painting...!?

The acreage is in need of a few hours work to get blown out right now but since we do all the work and the forecast is talking about more high winds, I think we'll hold out for a couple days yet before cranking up the snowblower and arm and back muscles! I'll just stay in the studio for now and see if I can earn my keep that way.

Keep warm!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year!

2009! Wow, I'd like to say "Where did 08 go?", but I don't believe I'll miss it too just feels good to move on at this point. Not that I would ever wish time away (I did that too much when I was young), but there does come times when you really feel you need to look forward...just be thankful and mindful of the past year, it's blessings and bumps.

Georgie made a New Year's resolution to "just have fun each day" - I like that! I guess I won't worry about not having an original thought and just agree with her! It's funny how we take ourselves so seriously all the time and then, sooner or later find that it's just not working out. Enjoying the small things along the way would be a helpful boost for anyone through the year...I'm going to try and stay more in tune to that thought...nudge me if I forget!

Happy New Year!