Interdisciplinary project combining art, anthropology, and ecology. Installation active through summer 2021 at Wholly Grounds coffee shop in Dayton, Ohio.
rough blazing star (Liatris aspera), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), common Eastern honeybee (Bombus impatiens)
In Rethink Your Lawn, a series of planter boxes reclaimed an urban street in Dayton with native plants, while painted mural panels illustrated the symbiotic relationships between these plants and local animals. Interpretive text on the panels and interpretive pamphlet contextualized the origins, implications, and limitations of the popular turf grass lawn, inviting passersby to consider alternative perspectives in lawn stewardship. As the baby plants grew throughout the summer of 2021, their colors and shapes mingled with the painted plants and animals, encouraging viewers to reflect on how their individual yardscaping decisions can impact their local habitat ecology.
As I was house-hunting in Dayton, Ohio, I found myself perplexed by listing after listing of tidy, homogeneous turfgrass lawns. This style of landscaping is so prevalent that I couldn’t stop wondering about it. How did these lawns become a staple in the American suburban aesthetic? Why are they still so popular, when we know now that they’re largely ecological dead zones that do little to support urban and suburban ecosystems? How can I leverage what I’m learning in both of my undergraduate majors, art and anthropology, to influence public conversations around culture and policy? These questions would become the core of my interdisciplinary senior project: a temporary installation that bridges the gap between public art and public education, equal parts urban beautification, museum exhibit, and advocacy.
bee balm (Monarda didyma), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), American goldfinch (Spinus tristis), silvery checkerspot butterfly (Chlosyne nycteis)
The research component of the project, rooted in my anthropological training, guided the writing of the interpretive text (see my research documentation here). I collected literature from across the disciplinary spectrum, from anthropology and history to geography, environmental science, art, and design. I have come to understand the American lawn as an arena for negotiating a complex set of relationships within the context of often contradictory desires. Not quite public and not quite private, the yard can be a buffer between the interior home life and the outside world, or it can open into a venue for building community. It can serve as a stage to perform neighborly responsibility or a space to express individualistic identities; a site of food production or a fragile work of botanical art; a commitment to the stewardship of native habitat or a battleground in the war against Mother Nature. Acknowledging the ways that people use and value their outdoor space is key to ensuring that any explorations of alternative lawn use paradigms continue to meet people’s existing emotional and relational needs.
spicebush (Lindera benzoin), great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus)
bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), white admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis), clymene moth (Haploa clymene)
flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), spring azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon)
The painting component of the project represents both ecological research and aesthetic and technical experimentation within my painting practice. Care was taken to render subjects recognizable while maintaining the loose, gestural strokes and vibrant color palettes that create an inviting, approachable display. To make the project more sustainable, the boxes were built out of reclaimed palette wood.
This piece invites the public to join me in asking,
“Does the dominant ideal of the turfgrass lawn really serve us, or can we imagine something better?”
Learn more about how native plants support our ecosystems and how to turn your lawn into habitat for local flora and fauna.
National Wildlife Foundation –
NWF Native Plant Finder –
USDA Plant Directory –
HomeGrown National Park –
Dayton Area Wild Ones –
Sketches and Progress Photos
Mockup of final installation.
Installation site at Wholly Grounds coffee on Wayne Ave. in Dayton.