Konza Prairie LTER Featured Artist

Gayle Dowell, The Prairie Jeweler: My art journey really started on my way back “home”. My husband and I moved closer to our Oklahoma roots by moving from Georgia to Kansas in 1995. During these years back home, I became acquainted with our tallgrass prairie through the docent program of the Konza Environmental Education Program with Jill Haukos. I’ve always loved nature, the outdoors, and hiking, but through this program with Jill, I developed a special connection with the prairie. As I learned about the history of the prairie and the fact that we have only 4% of our tallgrass prairie remaining, I felt a deep loss. I was at the time creating jewelry and found a way to incorporate the fleeting grasses and wildflower textures into my jewelry designs. It was a subconscious attempt to take something temporal, and give it more permanence by molding these plants of our vanishing prairie in precious metals. I hunt for different plant textures throughout the seasons of the year. My Embers Collection was inspired by a recent prescribed burn on the nature trail of Konza Prairie where a glowing orange ember contrasted with the black charred grasses that surrounded it.

The loss of our tallgrass prairie also has resonated with me as an Osage Nation tribal member whose ancestors once lived and hunted in the Flint Hills. Like the prairie, our culture was vanishing. I found a connection to my tribal heritage by learning our language through our new alphabet and our culture through our tribe in Oklahoma. We as a tribe once depended on the prairie for our food and medicine. It’s this emotional connection to my heritage and the vanishing prairie that has influenced my art and shaped my relationship to the land. The tallgrass prairie became a sacred space, my home. My art is my attempt to show the world the importance of our prairie’s biodiversity. It’s my attempt to protect “home”.

Walk with me on the prairie at www.gayledowell.com