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Artwork reflects modern-day challenges in Kansas agriculture

Friday, September 27, 2013

LAWRENCE — Last spring, Department of Design students in Professor Patrick Dooley’s Visual Communications Publication and Editorial class designed “1 Kansas Farmer,” a series of six display panels to present topics related to the environmental realities facing Kansans today and their historic roots, dating back to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

The panels were inspired by the history of the Dust Bowl, the science behind this environmental disaster, and the art that came out of it. They also visually communicate the research of the Biofuels and Climate Change: Farmers’ Land Use Decisions project (BACC:FLUD) currently being conducted by scholars at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. The studies examine Kansas farmers’ land-use decisions, and their relationship to biofuel crop opportunities and climate change.

“1 Kansas Farmer” is intended for an audience already familiar with the historical effects of agricultural land use on the environment during the Dust Bowl. As viewers turn their attention toward current research, they reconsider the lessons of the past, and make connections between these ideas and current crises facing Kansas.

Dooley said, “The students were assigned to make the panels look like they were magazine spreads, layouts that tell a complete story in two side-by-side pages.”

An important part of the project was for each team to design information graphics that would quickly and easily communicate the researchers’ discoveries.

The six teams of four students used period art and photography as well as photographs taken by Larry Schwarm, an artist commissioned by the Spencer and BACC:FLUD for this project. He has visually documented the conditions under which agriculture occurs in Kansas today. The students also incorporated period artworks and photographs from the collections of the Spencer Museum of Art at KU and Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art at K-State.

Copy for the posters was written and edited by the staff of the Spencer Museum. The content was culled from historic and recent interviews, survey responses and other research data collected by the BACC:FLUD team. The students also received guidance from Spencer staff on the specifics of designing for museum settings.

The panels are currently on view in the main hallway of the Spencer Museum of Art until Dec. 15 in conjunction with an exhibition related to KU’s 2013-2014 Common Book, “The Worst Hard Time,” a history of the Dust Bowl authored by Timothy Egan.

Additionally, each of the panels and a photograph of the Spencer Museum Installation can be seen at the Design Department’s Behance page, or at the Spencer’s website

Smaller versions of the panels will be displayed at the Kansas NSF EPSCoR conference Monday, Oct. 7, and Tuesday, Oct. 8, at the Oread Hotel. They also will be featured at the annual Governor’s Conference on the Future of Water, slated for Thursday, Oct. 24, and Friday, Oct. 25,  at the Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center in Manhattan.

Kate Meyer — curator of the “Conversation XV: Dust exhibition at Spencer,” project lead for “1 Kansas Farmer,” and member of the BACC:FLUD research team — will discuss art inspired by the Dust Bowl  from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 2, in the Spencer Museum of Art auditorium. The iconic images she will discuss chronicle and bring to life a devastating episode in American history, its aftermath and its memory. The students’ panels will be included in the discussion.