Earth Day: Organic Art

On this Earth day, a follow-up to a story we first brought you last fall about an organic art exhibit coming to Chicago next month. Ten world-renowed artists were hired to travel the world and design useful products from natural materials. As Micah Matterre reports, the first photographs of their journeys and designs are now on display at Millennium park.

On a beautiful sunny day at Lurie garden in downtown Chicago, work crews assemble a series of large photographs. They were taken by award-winning photographer Ami Vitale. "I hope when people come here that it gives them a sense of wonder about the world we live in, and makes them want to get out." Vitale got out a lot this past year. She dodged brown bears in Alaska to photograph them catching salmon. And watched as fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi turned the salmon skin into a dress. She traveled to Mexico to photograph the people who harvest chicle that was used to decorate ceramic vases. And we met Vitale last September when she photographed the Illinois prairie and dutch designer Christien Meindertsma to showcase Illinois in the art exhibit. "I hope that people will get a sense of that all these products around us actually come from somewhere and that somebody made them or grew them." The Nature conservancy purchased 3,000 acres in North central Illinois in 1986 that became Nachusa grasslands. With the help of volunteers, it's been restored to natural prairie, savannahs, and wetlands. Leslee Spraggins is the Nature Conservancy's Director for the state of Illinois. "The Nature Conservancy is the largest conservation organization in the world. And we work to take care of important lands and waters for people and nature. This "Design for a Living World" photo essay shows some of the places we work around the world and how the people who live there connect to nature in those places." The prairie plants chosen by Meindertsma and photographed by Vitale have become a book, each page representing a native prairie plant, pages that could potentially grow again if re-planted. We're told Meindertsma's also making candles from the plants. The photo essay at Millennium park previews the Field museum exhibit, "Design for a Living World." It opens May 12th. Spraggins says, "We want people to think about the products that they buy... how they're made, where they come from... what impact they may be having on people. And the places where those products come from."Spraggins says that's really what the "buy local" movement is all about. This exhibit connects the dots by showing the importance of choosing local resources no matter where you live. Photographer Vitale saw that first hand. "I hope that people in Chicago and elsewhere get involved in small ways. That's the thing I learned at Nachusa. These volunteers have actually taken a little bit of their lives and really turned back time. It's not so hopeless when you get your hands back in the soil."

Both the Field Museum exhibit and the photo essay at Millennium Park will last through the middle of November. You can learn more about the Nature Conservancy and the art exhibit by clicking these links.

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