Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day Remembrance of Jens Jensen, Wisconsin's poet of the natural landscape

Jens Jensen The Living Green: CLIPS from Viva Lundin Productions on Vimeo.

A couple days ago we saw a wonderful documentary, "The Living Green," on Wisconsin Public Television about Danish-American landscape architect Jens Jensen. It's showing again tonight, on Earth Day, on Channel 21 in Madison (11:00pm). If you can't catch it, this 10-minute series of clips on Vimeo captures many of the highlights and much of the spirit of this extraordinary man.

Jensen and his wife landed in Chicago in 1884 as penniless immigrants from Denmark. He began working for the Chicago Parks Department as a laborer but soon worked his way up and became the system's self-taught landscape architect, starting as superintendent of Humboldt Park in 1895. He was ahead of his time as a passionate advocate of natural, urban green space, and his design work for the city can be seen in such parks as garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Douglas Park and Columbus Park. He was instrumental in helping save the Indiana Dunes near Chicago. He retired from the park system in 1920 and began private practice, with influential projects around the country, including major projects for Henry Ford and his son Edsel.

After his wife died in 1935 he left the Chicago area and moved to Ellison Bay, in Door County, Wisconsin, where he established "Wisconsin's other Taliesin," The Clearing. Like his friend and contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright, he was known for his prairie style. Like Taliesin, he designed The Clearing as his home and school, as a way of passing on his vision. He also designed this lovely winding road between Gill's Rock and Rockport. He died in 1951 at the age of 91.

There are two Jens Jensen projects in Madison -- the Council Ring in the sliver of the UW-Madison Arboretum near Monroe Street and the nearby Glenwood Children's Park near Glenway Street. They're fitting memorials to this pioneer landscape architect and visionary, who was so far ahead of his time, and who spent the last 16 years of his long life in Wisconsin.

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