No Excuses: Make Art with What We Have

June 9th, 2012

Cathedral of the Nativity, Suzdal, Russia
This is not in North Dakota

On my recent trip through South Dakota I was reminded of another journey.
A decade or so ago I was invited to present work at a conference on Children and the Environment, in Suzdal, Russia. The participants stayed in an austere 14th century convent. We ate our meals under the arched ceiling in a convent dining room.
One morning for breakfast we were served a delicious cold vegetable salad. I asked Olga, my breakfast companion, if that was tradition in Russia, to have shredded vegetables for breakfast. In wonderfully accented English she replied:
“In Russia, we eat what we have.”
Ever since that morning, that phrase has been a mantra for me.

It’s not just about making do with less.
It’s about making the most with what is available.

And in South Dakota, they make ART with what they have. Two immense works of public art: the Corn Palace, and Mt. Rushmore are superlative examples, but they deserve separate blog posts.

The Corn Palace, Mitchell, North Dakota
Look at those onion domes!

I’ll get corny first and then rush on to more in another blog post.

Mitchell, South Dakota is the home of the Corn Palace. As I headed east along the interstate billboards proclaimed its increasing proximity. As much as I dislike the visual intrusion of billboards, my curiosity was definitely piqued by their insistent presence.

Located in Mitchell, South Dakota, the Corn Palace is absolutely unique. The surface of the palace is entirely covered with images made from 275,000 naturally multicolored corn cobs. Each individual cob is sliced in half and then affixed to the exterior of the building. And they re-do the surface annually!

Rock and roll portrayed in corn cobs.
On a very large scale.

Every year a committee picks a different topic. The images are then designed by a local artist. This year the theme was youth activities: rock and roll and many different sports. Inside there is an historical display of  Corn Palace art since this building was constructed in 1921.

The craftsmanship was impeccable. And the fact that they change it every year investing $130,000 in the process is a clear demonstration of their understanding of the value of art, both as an economic booster and for a unifying sense of community pride.

Close up of grasses used for color on the exterior of the Corn Palace

In addition to corn cobs  other agricultural products are used  such as wheat, sour dock, grasses and milo. Using purely natural materials the artists achieve a impressive color range. Each color of corn is grown in separate fields to avoid cross pollination. This is obviously an immense community effort.

Closeup of the cobs used to create images on the corn palace. Quite a wide range of color!

3 Responses to “No Excuses: Make Art with What We Have”

  1. Sheri Howe says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing!!! Love the mantra!!! Love the art too. amazing!!

  2. […] first, Liza Myers, is a painter and sculptor whose blog post today caught my attention:  “No Excuses: Make Art With What We Have.”  She describes visually and verbally some instances in which people used what they had to make […]

  3. Lynn Bridge says:

    Liza, I linked this post to my blog today.