Archive for the ‘conservation’ Category




“See that eagle high in that tree?”

Much of this information is set out at the Pere Marquette Visitor Center



—The term “bald” refers to the old English word “balde” meaning ‘white’, rather than ‘without feathers’. Adult birds (4-5 years old) have a distinctive white head and tail, and dark brown bodies.


—Young birds vary in color from solid dark brown to mottled brown and white plumage.

—Adult beaks and eyes are bright yellow. The hooked beaks are used for tearing flesh.

—Eyesight is very keen, up to 5 times better than human vision. They can see a rabbit about two miles away, for example. They have both monocular and binocular vision.

—eagles are one of the largest birds of prey in the world; they are 3 to 3.5 feet tall, with a 6.5 to 8-foot wingspan.


—Eagles mate for life and usually go back to the same nest, which they keep adding to. Some nests end up around 10ft wide, weighing hundreds of pounds.


Part of a nest in the Pere Marquette Visitor Center

—Females weigh up to 15lbs, males 8.5-9lbs.

—They eat fish mainly, but sometimes also eat ducks and geese. They can also be scavengers on dead or injured wildlife, such as ducks or deer, especially in winter. They also pirate food from other eagles or other birds.

—Their powerful 2-inch talons are used to take prey.

—They lay 1-3 eggs, which take 35 days to hatch. In 75 days the eaglet is almost full grown and ready to fly.


—The main predator is the raccoon, which takes eagle eggs.

—Eagles fly 20-40 mph in normal flight, but can reach speeds of 100 mph while diving. They can fly up to 300 miles per day when migrating!!


—The average age is about 15 years, but they can live up to 30 years in the wild, and to 50 years in captivity.



During the Bald Eagle Days festival in Alton, Illinois, you can even pat a costumed eagle!




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Liberty, a rescue bald eagle, on show at Alton Visitor Center


The Illinois River was mostly frozen over in early January 2018


A privilege and a thrill to watch the US national bird

Don’t forget your binoculars!

Eager to see an eagle? Well, you can watch our national bird, the Bald Eagle, soaring on six-foot wings, diving down at 100 mph to snatch a fish from the water’s surface, or perching on a tree branch. And Midwest residents don’t have to travel to Alaska (or Florida) to do that. Bald eagle sightings have increased along the Mississippi River this winter, on locks and dams in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

Just one hour north of St Louis is a great spot to see large numbers of these magnificent birds in winter, which we recently did in spite of the extreme cold.


P2040054.JPGAround Alton and Grafton, Illinois, is an area bounded by two rivers, the Illinois River and the Mississippi, with a third, the Missouri River, a few miles south. (In the native language of the then-local Illini tribe, ‘grafton’ means “gathering of waters’). State Parks and Wildlife Management Areas, Federal lands, and Nature Conservancy areas along these rivers recognize the importance of this area. Cliffs, bluffs, woods, wetlands, bottomlands and prairies provide a paradise for a wide variety of flora and fauna. This area is on the N-S bird migratory flyway, so it’s frequented by many migrating birds at different times of the year.


P2050074.JPGFor most people, the most famous visitor is the bald eagle, which is attracted here by large bodies of water with adequate food supplies and large land areas with minimal human disturbance. This is the second largest wintering ground for eagles flying from their nesting places in the Great Lakes States and Canada (the largest is in N. California and S. Oregon) and the chances of seeing eagles improve as the number of bald eagles continues to increase as a result of improving numbers. As our guide joked, “This is the eagles’ Florida”.

The bald eagle was on the Endangered Species List: Their numbers were down to as few as 417 nesting pairs in the 1960s, because of loss of habitat and widespread use of harmful pesticides, especially DDT. Banning DDT and increased habitat protection under federal law have led to a significant increase in the number of nesting bald eagles, so in 1995 the eagle’s status was downgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’.

It is thought that this area supports an estimated winter population of 2500-3000 eagles, and the birds are spotted daily. The wintering eagles use large trees on the river banks for daytime perches, as food is readily available in the open water, especially near dams (they enjoy the fish that are confused/thrown up by the locks and ferries), but they prefer large trees in the nearby sheltered valleys and ravines for night roosts.


Woodlands in Pere Marquette State Park

mapThe 15-mile scenic Great River Road between Alton and Pere Marquette State Park is very accessible to eagle-watching enthusiasts. Here the road runs along the base of limestone bluffs that rise almost 200 feet above the Mississippi River. Early French explorers (such as Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet) called these ramparts “broken castles” and the scenery alone makes the drive worthwhile.

In winter, many Eagle Events are planned (such as Bald Eagle Days from Pere Marquette State Park Visitors Center: reservations required) or you can plan eagle-viewing yourself with the aid of a pamphlet, “The Eagle Watchers Guide”, which you can pick up at the Alton Visitors Center, Pere Marquette Visitor Center, or the National Great Rivers Museum. Or more information at www.visitalton.com 


Like wolves and lions, eagles have captured people’s imaginations over the centuries. The Native American Indians revered the eagle as a messenger of the gods and, as your eye is drawn ever upward to admire its graceful soaring, you can understand why, and realize that actually legend is not a match for the reality (eagles have been tracked flying as high as 30,000 feet and because they fly so high is why the Indians thought they were delivering messages to the gods). Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey as the national bird, but the eagle was chosen in 1782 because it’s a true American species (the only other endemic eagle in North America is the golden eagle) As we watch this magnificent bird, we’re very glad the turkey wasn’t chosen!



Pere Marquette Visitor Center


Liberty, a rescue eagle is 26 years old and very comfortable with crowds of people

Start at the Visitors’ Center in Pere Marquette State Park, a few miles beyond Grafton on Highway 100, the Great River Road (You can also begin at the Alton Visitor Center, which doesn’t have as many displays but did have a live rescue eagle on display this January). They have good displays on the flora and fauna and natural history of this area and lots of information on eagles, including an informative movie. (See Fun Facts about Bald Eagles in the next article). The Center offers its own Bald Eagle Days program on some days in the season, which you need to sign up for when there, or call 618-786-3323. We took part in this one Sunday, and it was excellent. A State Park interpreter leads the program, driving some people around in a van while others follow in their own vehicles.


We also saw trumpeter swans


Our guide, Scott, sets up a ‘scope and points out eagles and their nests

frozenriver3But, to do a viewing trip yourself, drive north from Pere Marquette about 8 miles on 100 to Fuller Lake Wildlife Management Area. Stop and look around at the trees along both sides of the river, and you may see eagles resting on the branches. Turn and retrace your steps past the park, keeping your eagle eyes open! You may see other cars stopped, which probably means they’ve spotted something, and if there’s a place to pull off the road, you can do the same. Just before Grafton is the free Brussels ferry over the Illinois River. It’s fun to drive your car onto the ferry and cross over to the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, where you may see bald eagles, pelicans, white geese or trumpeter swans. Cross back (the ferry runs 24/7, every 10-15 minutes so long as the river is not ice-bound) and drive along the Mississippi, watching out for the birds, past Alton to the National Great Rivers Museum at the site of Melvin Price Locks and Dam. You can often see eagles in flight and feeding around this massive structure, or resting in the trees along the river. This January, for the first time in our experience, we saw that the Illinois River was mostly frozen over. Quite amazing to see that!


So much ice!



Casey, a red-shouldered hawk

On the opposite side of the river (drive over the big bridge at Alton and turn left) is the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary (aka the Audubon Center), one of the best locations for eagle viewing. They (in conjunction with the Alton Visitor Center) were hosting the Alton-Audubon Eagle Ice Festival the day were were there, with fun activities for kids and a live red-shouldered hawk on display. It was also fascinating to see an artist carving an ice sculpture of an eagle from a huge block of ice at the Alton Visitor Center and to see some other finished ice sculptures there and at the Audubon Center. The weather was so cold that the sculptures didn’t melt even a little bit out in the weak sunshine!





SStrmmarketPere Marquette Lodge in Pere Marquette State Park has rooms in the Lodge or cabins in the grounds. For reservations call 618-786-2331or visit www.PMLodge.net . I’ll write more about Pere Marquette, the PM State Park and PM Lodge in a later post.

Other lodging options are listed at www.VisitAlton.com . Many restaurants in Grafton and Alton provide tasty lunch breaks. We really liked State Street Market in Alton.

NOTE: An alternative site in Illinois for eagle viewing is Starved Rock State Park on the upper Illinois River, much closer to Chicago.

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Tasty grass in Masai Mara, Kenya


Tasty bush in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park, South Africa


Masai Mara grass plains

Fifth Annual World Elephant Day, August 12, 2016.

Bringing the World Together to Help Elephants

The first World Elephant Day was on August 12, 2012, and many organizations around the world are trying to help the plight of the elephants, such as WWF, Save the Elephants, and International Elephant Foundation.

In honor of this day and these animals, I found some of our pictures taken at different times. Enjoy!


Water hole at Pilansberg National Park, South Africa


Drinking at the water hole, Pilansberg


At Pilansberg


Follow the leader, Masai Mara

World Elephant Day is a celebration of these animals and a call for the protection of the giant creatures and a promotion of conservation. The African elephant weights roughly 22,000 pounds and is the largest land animal: the Asian elephant is smaller at 10,000 pounds. This great size has not prevented their decimation, however. Nor has the fact that elephants have been potent cultural symbols worldwide, especially in Buddhist and Hindu lore and religion.


Sand bath about to begin at Hluhluwe=Umfolozi


“Gotta get rid of this itch”, Pilansberg


Babies, Pilansberg

Like so many of the wonderful animal and plant species on our earth, elephants are endangered. According to the official World Elephant Day website, only 40,000 Asian elephants remain worldwide, and only 400,000 African elephants.

We are from southern Africa and love all the wildlife there, but I’ve always had a special soft spot for elephants. These huge creatures have an amazing social system, they are very intelligent—it’s been shown that they have feelings of empathy, grief for lost loved ones, an understanding of teamwork, and an ability to use tools.

On our many trips to various National Parks in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya we’ve spent countless hours watching these giant creatures—and at times, many hours waiting for them to move off the road! It’s a lot of fun to watch elephants and their interactions in a group (from a safe place, of course). We’ve seen them on the grass plains, in wooded thickets, around water holes, and they are magnificent wherever they are.



One of the main reasons these (mostly) gentle giants are endangered is because of their ivory tusks, which are coveted in some parts of the world, leading to a huge illegal market in ivory. Other reasons are habitat loss and human-elephant conflict, usually over territory and crops. But I’ve also heard reports about elephants dying when hit by a speeding train in India.

What can we, as ordinary individuals, do to help?

—Support a ban on ivory trade

—Support any measures that will help stop poaching of elephants

–Support measures to conserve elephant habitats

–Ensure that captive elephants are treated properly

—Donate to one of the organizations if you are able

Following is a nice series of an elephant slowly sauntering along the road in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park. You definitely wait until he/she decides to get off the road!



“Perhaps I’ll cross now”…


…”but maybe I’ll go on this side rather.”

Here is some information taken from the official website. It’s both sobering and encouraging reading.


Ivory Trade

In 1989, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) issued an international ban on the ivory trade.

2013 saw the greatest quantity of ivory confiscated in the last 25 years.

The street value of a single tusk is approximately US$15,000.

The main market for illegal ivory is China, where a single tusk can fetch $100,000–200,000.

Tusks are found in African elephants of both sexes while only in Asian males.

An African bull’s tusks can grow to over 11 feet long and weigh 220 pounds.

May 2016, Kenya showed that it has zero-tolerance for the illegal ivory trade by torching 105 tons worth of ivory. The largest ivory burn in history.

June 2, 2016, US adopts a near-total ivory ban.

China has made several steps that indicate it might be heading towards a complete ban of commercial ivory.”

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Hopefully there will be more babies

Hopefully there will be more babies

Animals have right of way here

Animals have right of way here

World Rhino Day

Lots of information and events here:


In honor of World Rhino Day, which was yesterday, September 22, here are some of our rhino pics from our last recent trips to South Africa. All were taken in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park.

As you know, we are passionate about trying to keep these amazing creatures from extinction, so hopefully every little bit of exposure helps.

I wrote about saving the rhinos last year—see here:



rhinobabySuch magnificent animals—it’s really criminal and unimaginable that other people actually poach them and harm them terribly, just to get the horns!


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I would hug this tree if I could! Doing my best to show what a giant it is

I would hug this tree if I could! Doing my best to show what a giant it is

Our little car is rather dwarfed!

Our little car is rather dwarfed!

It’s Earth Day today (April 22)—the 45th anniversary of the start of Earth Day. Many groups and organizations are making a plea to the public to be aware of the environment and our earth and to think of ways to help it. Even Pope Francis gave an address today.

To honor the occasion, World Wildlife Fund is asking people to Hug A Tree, and send in pictures of the tree huggers, as a way to stand up for forests and to appreciate them more deeply. Taking care of our forests is certainly critical to taking care of the environment, so in that spirit I’m re-posting a previous article on the wonderful redwoods in northern California—where we hugged many trees!

One August a few years ago, my husband had a conference in Berkeley.

After the time in Berkeley, we had 8 free days and decided to explore parts of northern California. We visited little-known wineries, Lassen Volcanic National Park…and the amazing redwoods, which is what I’ll focus on here.

We rented a car from SFO International Airport (easy to get there on the BART) and set off north on Highway 1 over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and on highway 101 to the town of Willits, our night stop (at Old West Inn, and dinner at Al’s Redwood Room, with reasonably priced Thai-American food). It prides itself on being the Gateway to the Redwoods, which it is.


The board says it all: "Giant Tree"

The board says it all: “Giant Tree”

Next day we continued north on 101 to Arcata, just north of Eureka, where we spent 2 nights as our base to the famous redwoods (in the Quality Inn, just off the highway). We hadn’t realized until we began this drive that one of the best places to see the magnificent redwoods is in Humboldt State Park, along the Avenue of the Giants, as it’s known. The number and size of redwoods here equals that in the Redwood National Park farther north.

We left the highway at Phillipsville, between Willits and Arcata, and slowly savored the next 31 miles of the Avenue of the Giants, the old redwood highway, which winds through the groves of trees, the road sometimes so narrow there’s only room for one car and you feel as though you could stretch your arm out the window and touch one of the giants. Luckily, there are numerous stopping points and a couple of short walks where you can get out and actually touch, or hug, a tree if you wish. These trees are amazing, so big and so beautiful that they inspire wonder and it’s hard to find the right words to adequately describe them and the effect they have on the awe-struck visitors.

Redwood trees are earth’s largest living things and as we gazed upwards it’s easy to believe. Sequoias, in the same family,

We saw many Roosevelt elk

We saw many Roosevelt elk

are also enormous—-they are often more massive, with bigger trunks, but are not as tall as the redwoods. It’s worthwhile doing the ½-mile Founders Grove walk, which has a booklet explaining the forest features along the way. They introduce the walk: “You are entering an ancient forest. This nature trail will provide a glimpse into the past and a look into one of the greatest forests on earth.”

The next day we drove a little north of Arcata to the Redwood National Park, another delightful spot, for redwoods and also for viewing Roosevelt Elk (which we saw in abundance). A must-do is the one-mile loop Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail, which also has an illustrated explanatory booklet. It winds through old-growth redwood forest and is a reminder of the extensive redwood forests that once covered the Pacific coast from Big Sur to southern Oregon.

We learned how intensive logging has reduced the forests drastically, and became stimulated to support efforts to conserve and preserve these giants, many thousands of years old. The day we were there, the grove was wreathed in a thick coastal fog, creating a truly mysterious, almost magical, feel, as the great, grey shapes appeared and disappeared.

The forest appears other-worldly in the foggy mist

The forest appears other-worldly in the foggy mist

There are no places to buy food in the park itself, but the little hamlet of Orick has a couple of cafes serving good diner-type food.

Back in the park, it’s also well worthwhile to drive along the Newton Scenic Parkway (the old redwood highway) to gaze and wonder again at these timeless giants, with a stop at the Big Tree Wayside. A short walk took us to the Big Tree, supposedly one of the most massive redwoods, with a height of 300+ feet and a 21-foot diameter. (To be honest, we felt we’d already seen bigger trees).

The 2 days walking amongst redwoods passed very quickly, but gave us a good introduction to these beautiful giants.

Take a look at my earlier article on Earth Day and its origins (written 5 years ago to celebrate Earth Day’s 40th year).


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We approach the Dead Sea from the desert hills

We approach the Dead Sea from the desert hills

Even from our bus we can see that the north and south parts of the Dead Sea are getting separated

Even from our bus we can see that the north and south parts of the Dead Sea are getting separated

One of the world’s first health resorts, the Dead Sea has a far from healthy future.

The Dead Sea is in the Jordan Rift Valley and its main tributary is the River Jordan. It is actually a salt lake. It is 304m deep (997 ft), making it the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. In 2011 the salinity was measured at 34.2% (9.6 times as salty as the ocean), which makes it one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. However, since about 1950 the water level has dropped about 130 feet, and it’s estimated that now the level drops around 3 feet every year. It’s called the Dead Sea as its composition cannot support aquatic life. At 428 m (1407 ft) below sea level, it’s the lowest place in the world—a mind-boggling concept anyway, even before considering seas and salts.

The mountain desert is a fascinating, surreal kind of place

The mountain desert is a fascinating, surreal kind of place

If you look hard, you can see camels in the distance

If you look hard, you can see camels in the distance

As we drove from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea, we passed a large board announcing “Sea Level” and then markers every so often, saying “minus 200m” for example. As we drove down, the landscape changed from groves of date palm trees and many vegetable tunnels to much drier and sandier with amazing rock formations. Some wild camels roam, and at a couple of petrol stations locals had camels, decked out ready for tourists. As we went along, it was really difficult to work out what’s Israel, what’s West Bank, what’s off-limits behind walls. Huge walls snake along the hills and the Israelis say they’ve helped cut crime etc. It’s hard even for the locals, such as Shani our Jerusalem guide, who lives on a kibbutz near the north-east part of the Dead Sea—Jericho is very close to his kibbutz but he’s not allowed to go there, because it’s in Zone A.

As we drove down, the guide explained that the Dead Sea is shrinking, for a combination of reasons: less rain,

A person floating in the Dead Sea

A person floating in the Dead Sea

less water coming in from the River Jordan (because of dams), less drainage into the Sea, and more evaporation, much linked to various salts extraction. We also had to go on a detour, to skirt a huge sinkhole, one of many that have appeared due to the change in the Dead Sea levels.

The sea is so dense with salts that it’s basically impossible to actually swim in it— you can just wade in and then float on your back. The weather was a little chilly and very windy when we were there, so I couldn’t actually get in and test it for myself. But we did dip our hands in— the water feels sort of thick and a bit oily. Strange.

Welcome to En Boqeq resort area. Note the 3 languages used

Welcome to En Boqeq resort area. Note the 3 languages used

One of the huge resort hotels in En Boqeq

One of the huge resort hotels in En Boqeq

Health benefits of the Dead Sea. It has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean for thousands of years. In the Bible, it was a place of refuge for King David, and was one of the world’s first health resorts, for Herod the Great. It has supplied a variety of products, from asphalt for Egyptian mummification, to potash for fertilizer. People also use the salt and the minerals to create cosmetics and herbal sachets.

At the Dead Sea resort area of En Bokek, where the conference was held, is a cluster of high-rise resort hotels with spas and special pools, and a series of small malls with a variety of cafes and shops for the visitors. Many of the flyers and signs are in another language, besides the usual three of Hebrew, Arabic and English: Russian. Apparently they get lots of Russian tourists and visitors (although the numbers are down right now due to the dip in the Russian economy), some of whom come for medical tourism. Our one tour guide told us that some Russian medical insurances will even cover some of these treatments!

Dear Sea herbs for sale---note the Russian language too

Dead Sea herbs for sale—note the Russian language too

Black Mud from the Dead Sea

Black Mud from the Dead Sea

Many of the shops sell all kinds of beauty and health products that have ingredients that come from the Dead Sea, and are supposedly very healthy—although one Israeli lady from the conference told me that there is very little empirical evidence to prove this claim. Supposedly, the salts are very good for skin ailments, like rashes, eczema and psoriasis, if you rub some of the water on the skin area. This very robust industry of salts, cosmetics, and creams etc is actually part of the problem affecting the health of the Dead Sea. There are conflicting interests between the tourist and industrial sectors and they are destroying what they depend on.

The local Regional Council, working with the Dead Sea Preservation

A typical shop sign

A typical shop sign

Government Company (with help from the Kingdom of Belgium and US Aid), is making an effort to try and stem this. They’ve set up information boards explaining the problems and have prepared a walking trail, on both sides of the Sea (Israel and Jordan), to help people appreciate unique natural features and heritage of the region (and then try to save it). I walked a bit of the trail and it’s fascinating to see what can grow here if it’s fostered, using the drip irrigation method. They say the desert landscapes of the Dead Sea have changed a lot over the last few decades, on both sides of the Sea, due to mismanagement of the Jordan River and Dead Sea ecosystems.

Greenery in En Boqeq

Greenery in En Boqeq

Looking down on the south part of the Dead Sea you can easily see some of the salt extraction ponds

Looking down on the south part of the Dead Sea you can easily see some of the salt extraction ponds

They also say that Israeli and Jordanian industries that intentionally aggravate the evaporation of water to harvest minerals are responsible for accelerating the yearly decline of the Dead Sea. Also, the evaporation process causes the annual accumulation of 20 cubic meters of salt residue at the bottom of the pools, which raises the seabed and water level, constantly threatening to flood the surrounding areas, especially in hotels and other infrastructures, like roads.

In short, a very real, serious problem. It’s a shame, as the area is gorgeous, and the Dead Sea such an unusual geographical feature.

The view from our hotel window---how gorgeous is that?

The view from our hotel window—how gorgeous is that?



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Approaching the Des Moines Botanical Garden

Approaching the Des Moines Botanical Garden


Spectral Liberation

Spectral Liberation


rainbowAt the Des Moines Botanical Garden recently we were fascinated by an eye-catching large outdoor sculpture at the entrance. Rainbow-colored, the curved metal struts were evocative of a large whale skeleton perhaps, or a flower with lots of petals in layers, or a series of interlocking “Ws”. It was installed in 1984 but has recently been renovated and returned to its spot here.

Called Spectral Liberation”, this colorful stainless steel masterpiece was created by internationally known sculptor Christiane Martens, and donated to the Garden by Leonard and Eileen Newman. Martens sculpted it in honor of Des Moines resident and civic leader Connie Belin, whose favorite icon was a rainbow.

The appearance of the steel changes with the light

The appearance of the steel changes with the light

The arched struts are polished metal on one side and painted on 2 sides in bright bold colors. It’s geometry in motion, because, depending on the light and where you stand, the colors change as does the illusion of what the sculpture “is”. The Des Moines Botanical Gardens are celebrating its return and are highlighting some of the colors in other ways, such as by asking visitors to find the orange colors of the Firecracker plant and the rich blues of the Blue Butterfly flower.

Entrance to the Garden, at 909 Robert D Ray Drive, is $5 adults, $4 seniors/military, $3 students, well worth a couple of hours. It’s open 10am-5pm daily. The setting is pretty too, alongside the Des Moines River, with a river walk and pathways.



Molecular * in Meadowbrook Park

Molecular Reflection in Meadowbrook Park

We soon realized that one of the attractive outdoor sculptures in Meadowbrook Park (Molecular Reflection, 1997) in our hometown or Urbana, IL, is also by the same sculptor. As are one in the Urbana Free Library, called Expanding Impulse (2007), and one in the Beckman Institute’s patio on the U of I campus, called Tsunami Ascending (1990). So, we determined to learn more.

Vera G and I by Molecular Reflection

Vera G and I by Molecular Reflection

Christiane Martens stands by one of her small pieces outside her home in Urbana

Christiane Martens stands by one of her small pieces outside her home in Urbana

We discovered that Martens lives in Urbana, and by a stroke of good fortune we were able to arrange a meeting with her in her Urbana home. She graciously spent over an hour with us, and was very happy to talk about her work and to show us some of the smaller pieces she has in her home and garden, plus many models for the larger installations around the world. Her house is full of light, as she installed skylights in all rooms. She has a small studio in the extensive basement but she now does her major work in a rented studio space.

She’s a soft-spoken lady, a little diffident but also quietly confident, with a soft German accent still (she came to the USA in 1968 from Germany). She taught German then and studied art, and went on to become a professor in the Art Department at the U of I from 1981. She told us that as a school student her favorite subjects were always art and mathematics, and her interest in these melds wonderfully in her sculpted work. We saw a number of her design sketches—all meticulously diagrammed and marked down to the last millimeter, just like an architectural or engineering design. She does paint, but prefers working with metals of different kinds, especially welded steel and stainless steel. She says that she can “think in steel.” She uses the color red a lot but also has works with the bare metal exposed to the elements. The outdoor sculptures are constantly transformed by sun, shade and weather outdoors.

Chrisiane Martens by one of her small "lacy" sculptures in her basement

Chrisiane Martens by one of her small “lacy” sculptures in her basement

An intricate, delicate piece mounted on Martens' wall

An intricate, delicate piece mounted on Martens’ wall

Martens has always been interested in the stars and astronomy, which she is now studying formally since she retired from the U of I. This interest is reflected in much of her work, with orbs, orbits, celestial bodies etc. Even her earliest works showed this interest, before she really knew much about the subject. Some of her smaller works are a curving mesh of almost lacy metal tendrils. She is also passionate about the earth and conservation and some of her pieces are a strong statement on the damage humankind is doing to the earth and nature. Some of these pieces use nests, eggs, and feathers. She also feels strongly about the danger of guns and what guns are doing to our society and this too is reflected in a couple of smaller works that we saw.

Martens is first and foremost a public artist, as she believes all people should be able to share and enjoy. Luckily, as a teacher, she has passed on this philosophy to many of her students.

Some of the monumental works that she seems most proud of are: the one in Alaska (Denali, at University of Alaska, Fairbanks); the one in Sioux Falls, North Dakota (Centripeton, 1977); and the one in the Hakone Open Air Museum, Japan, called Nocturnal Orbits. For this, in 1993 she received the prize for excellence at the Fujisanke Biennale, the largest international competition for contemporary outdoor sculpture.

We felt honored to meet this very talented lady, who still has many projects planned.

Martens' house contains many of her amazingly imaginative works

Martens’ house contains many of her amazingly imaginative works

Another small "orbital'-style sculpture in her living room

Another small “orbital’-style sculpture in her living room


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