21 April 2012

Monuments Jensen left behind


Ostermann Monument, Dyer, IN (rear) by Jens Jensen

I've written here before about famous landscape architect Jens Jensen who created a movement at the beginning of the 20th century that was, well, a century ahead of its time.  Jensen promoted a form of natural landscape design intent on using native plantings and stonework that reflected a regional, and specific eco-system, in which the design was created.

This, to me, was a greater triumph than his colleague on the architecture side of design, Frank Lloyd Wright, realized.  While Wright was a leading force, and a master, for new architecture-he also rode the wave of a society that was desperate for a break from tradition.  Jensen, on the other hand, was positioned at the pinnacle of time during which a classical "city beautiful" movement had crept into nearly every community-large and small.  Jensen rebuffed the classical arrangement of the landscape, certainly, but his larger message was running counter-culture to American ideas about the use, or abuse, of land.

Jensen sought the preservation of the landscape and the reestablishment of natural areas.  Remarkably, this became a key feature of the Lincoln Highway Association's 1921 "Ideal Section" of road near Dyer, Indiana.  They turned to Jensen to design the Ideal Section-which would be touted across the country as an example of the most appropriate and modern way to design highways.  Jensen designed footpaths removed from the concrete road, stone bridges, and even concrete light poles that blended with their surroundings.  Does this not sound like common themes of our Transportation Enhancement projects today?

When Henry Ostermann, a native Hoosier and major promoter of the Lincoln Highway, was tragically killed in Iowa, the Lincoln Highway Association turned to Jensen again to design a fitting tribute to Ostermann-and it would be located in the Ideal Section.  The monument, and a monument created during the 1960s by the Daughters of the American Revolution for the Ideal Section, stand together on the south side of U.S. 30 (Lincoln Highway) and are all that remain of this tribute to road-building innovation.

Jensen designed the monument in his tell-tale method of natural limestone laid to appear like stratified layers of bedrock, which form a bench-not unlike his trademark "council rings" only linear versus circular.  Jensen also incorporated an arch made of stones in which a plaque honoring Ostermann was placed.  It is currently awaiting restoration.

So my question in researching this site was "how prolific was Jensen in monument design?"  This is hard to know.  Jensen did a significant amount of work in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana.  Most of this work was residential and civic building landscape design in nature or city parks.  In a book published on Jensen an exhaustive list of his work was included and it lists only two projects that were purely monumental or commemorative in nature.  And both are in Indiana.  One is the Ostermann monument.  The other is a monument to his beloved Prairie Club, the organization that led early 20th century efforts to save the Indiana dunes at Lake Michigan.

Prairie Club Founation-Indiana Dunes State Park
The Prairie Club monument is located at Indiana Dunes State Park.  It was located nearer the historic gate house, but was relocated to the front lawn of the nature center.  I was curious about this other Jensen monument, so when making a trip for work, I swung by the Dunes for a look-and a hike.  The Prairie Club monument is also quintessential Jensen.  It has a more natural form, and a linear bench as well.  A unique feature is the brass snake fountain in one corner of it.

While the monuments certainly serve as tributes, as their creator intended, they also serve as monuments to one of the most important environmental leaders Indiana has ever had.  Thank God Indiana, and the Dunes, had Jens Jensen.

2 comments:

Juandelacruz said...

Kurt, you're probably aware of how much work Jensen did at Culver Academy?

Here's one reference:
http://digitalvault.culver.org/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/hartman&CISOPTR=139&REC=18

Besides his overall design ideas for the campus in 1915, he also designed the Class Ring circa 1938-9.

Good post -- fascinating stuff!

--Jeff Kenney

hoosier reborn said...

Jeff-great information on the link. Based on what I've read on Jensen-I could picture him saying those things. I need to stroll the CMA campus again with my Jensen glasses on-I don't think I've ever been to the council ring.