Tom Kacich: Meadowbrook sculpture a Wright homage

Tom Kacich: Meadowbrook sculpture a Wright homage

The king of Prairie Town, aka noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright, now looks over the prairie at Urbana's Meadowbrook Park.

You have to have some imagination and some knowledge of Wright — often called the greatest of all American architects — to see him in the modern sculpture along Windsor Road. But that's Wright, says Chicago artist Nicole Beck, who did the homage to the Wisconsin-born architect who designed dozens of homes, businesses and libraries in Illinois, although none in Champaign-Urbana.

"I've done a couple of sculptures that are derived from Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, and that piece ("Kind of Prairie Town") is riffed on a room-divider screen from Wright's first Prairie-style home called Bradley House," built in 1900 in Kankakee, Beck said.

"What I did with that screen and the other Wright sculpture I did was that I started with that design, and I pare away elements of it and added other elements to create sort of figurative pieces," she said.

"That piece is supposed to be a king, and it's supposed to be Frank Lloyd Wright, king of Prairie Town."

Along with the diagonal lines often found in Wright's architecture of a century ago, Beck put something more modern: solar-powered LED lights.

"The piece has solar panels, which power those stained-glass lanterns. Those lanterns, I just made them up and added them because I wanted the piece lit up. Those aren't from specifically from Frank Lloyd Wright, but they're in his style," Beck said.

Many of the homes Wright designed, including the 1902 Dana-Thomas House near downtown Springfield, made use of leaded glass.

"I believe that if Frank Lloyd Wright was alive today and building houses, he'd definitely be taking advantage of solar power," Beck claimed. "For sure because of his respect for nature. All of his architecture was designed that way. The Prairie homes were. He just loved nature, and he wanted to bring it indoors."

She likes the spot where "King of Prairie Town" now reigns.

"It's a nice entrance piece. I like it as a doorway piece. In fact, it would be fun if people could walk through it. But you'd have to accommodate bicycles and dogs and things like that," she laughed.

Tim Bartlett, director of the Urbana Park District, said the LED-illuminated sculpture is a good fit for the site at the Wandell Sculpture Garden, which now features 22 pieces, 12 of which — like the ode to Wright — are leased.

"It gives off a soft glow, so I thought it would be neat there because we don't have any other lighted pieces, but that one works well along Windsor Road," he said. "It makes for a nice entryway to the park.

"We did heavy, heavy wildflowers there, so if you go by in June or July, you'll see maybe six or eight different plants that bloom during the period. And Nicole's piece will add to the color there."

Beck's work may be familiar to many in Champaign-Urbana. She had another, entirely different kind of piece at Meadowbrook Park called "Sunstruck," and won a competition for her other LED-lighted work, "Amplifiers," which sits east of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building.

"Amplifiers," she said, is a tribute to two University of Illinois legends, John Bardeen and Nick Holonyak Jr. The latter built the first LED in 1962.

Bartlett said the early reviews of "King of Prairie Town" from park visitors are positive.

"I think, because we put it in later in the year, it hasn't had quite the feedback," he said. "But this winter, especially with the early nights and snow and when it starts to glow, I think we'll get a lot of feedback. I'm told that the folks who live at Clark-Lindsey (the retirement community adjacent to the park) love it and think it's neat. I assume that the novelty of the lighted sculpture effect and the prairie connection make it really strong."

Not to mention that, coincidentally, the father of the LED lives at Clark-Lindsey.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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pattsi wrote on December 10, 2017 at 8:12 am

Love this from all angles mentioned in the article plus the new exterior lights that I put on my burned abode look just like these shown.

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