Designing for a Living World: Christien Meindertsma
About two hours west of the North Shore, 3,000 acres of prairie grasses blow in the breeze, while dickcissels and grasshopper sparrows chirp nearby. To Dutch artist Christien Meindertsma, walking through Nachusa Grasslands for the first time was an overwhelming experience. “Of course, I had read books about the prairie to prepare for this,” she says, “but it’s impossible to imagine what it looks like if you haven’t seen it before.”
Meindertsma’s initial astonishment eventually gave way to 49 large sheets of handcrafted papers made from as many different prairie grasses. When she got the call from The Nature Conservancy, Meindertsma had already been experimenting with making her own papers with grasses, boiling the grass at home and using a kitchen blender to grind it into a pulp, so this project, she says, “fit me like a glove.” Meindertsma’s paper prairie has been sold to a local environmentalist and art collector, and will not travel with the rest of the exhibit when it leaves Chicago.
Meindertsma also visited Lava Lake Ranch, Idaho, a trip she describes with an almost childlike delight. A native of the Netherlands, the only U.S. city she had previously been to was New York. “People kept asking me why I was going to Idaho,” she says. “A lot of people in the States had never even been there.” The journey to Lava Lake Ranch required getting on progressively smaller planes; the last one held only eight people, three of whom were wearing cowboy hats—“It’s kind of a cliché for us,” Meindertsma says.
At Lava Lake Ranch, Meindertsma gathered wool from a flock of sheep, which was spun into thick, organic white wool. To make such thick yarn, about 55 pounds has to be spun at once; each sheep produces about three-and-a-half pounds of wool. She knitted hexagonal tiles, each one representing the wool from a single sheep, using a different stitch for each tile with yardstick-length knitting needles. Meindertsma, who has created other large-scale knitted works, says that this project was a breakthrough that allowed her to start spinning and using local yarn.