Tall grass that swayed in perfect harmony with the stems of wildflowers used to be a staple of Oklahoma’s landscape. The prairie was once home to bees, butterflies, birds and bison, so Norman artist Lauren Rosenfelt has made it her mission to preserve that memory in an art installation at the Norman Central Library.
Rosenfelt has been awarded two grants — one from the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition and one from the Norman Arts Council — to create a signage art installation at the Norman Central Library. The exhibit will feature four signs that showcase the flora and fauna of Norman.
Rosenfelt is originally from Newalla, Oklahoma, and said she is used to small-town life. She now lives on the outskirts of Norman near the Post Oak-Blackjack Forest and said after spending much of her time in nature she developed an interest for ecology, conservation and preservation of native species.
“I spent a lot of time outside, and I was interested in nature,” Rosenfelt said. “Learning about science and the problems that we're facing with the extinctions of many species is what led me to that.”
During her teenage years at Little Axe High School, Rosenfelt said she felt the need to choose between pursuing a career in either art or science. She followed the art path and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.
Rosenfelt said she was able to combine her love of science and art by using her art to educate the public about the natural world. She said many people are unaware of the nuances of ecosystems, but she hopes to change that with her new project at the Norman Central Library.
The library already embraces a more natural landscape, and Rosenfelt said the library’s branch manager encouraged her to pursue the signage project before she had even received the grants. She hopes the art installation will serve as an educational resource about the differences between man-made landscaping and areas where native flora and fauna are allowed to flourish.
“This used to be prairie land ... not manicured lawns,” Rosenfelt said.
Rosenfelt brought her signage project proposal — tentatively titled “Pollinator and Native Prairie Benefits Public Art Signage” — to Norman Arts Council Executive Director Erinn Gavaghan who said she was impressed by Rosenfelt’s professionalism and her desire to better the community.
The arts council frequently funds artists’ projects through grants, but Gavaghan said Rosenfelt’s proposal was the first of its kind. Rosenfelt included a detailed budget, program outline and sketches of the finished project.
“We looked at it and were like, ‘Yes, yes, this is perfect,’” Gavaghan said. “It was a project that was not only well thought out, but actually fulfills a need within the community. We felt like it was a really wonderful fit.”
Gavaghan said the council found Rosenfelt’s idea particularly appealing because the Norman Central Library has elected to maintain a more natural outdoor landscape. Gavaghan said many library visitors have been confused by the “wild and weedy” appearance of the library’s lawn.
“(Rosenfelt’s project) is very purposeful in its intent and educates the community,” Gavaghan said. “(The library’s landscaping) is actually meant to be the way it is, so that it can be a natural landscape that attracts pollinators and birds here to help with the ecosystem in the area.”
The Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition was also impressed by Rosenfelt’s project proposal and awarded her the Community Artist Partnership Grant as part of its “mission to grow and develop Oklahoma’s visual arts community,” according to a press release.
Rosenfelt said she hopes her project will help explain why the library’s landscaping is different, and why that’s a good thing. She said she believes it’s important to allow Oklahoma’s native wildlife to prosper and avoid planting invasive species varieties like the common Bermudagrass.
“It is really important for people to understand that it doesn't have to be a Bermudagrass lawn,” Rosenfelt said. “Bermuda(grass) is actually an introduced species that's super invasive and is taking away the diversity of grass species and wildflower species that are native to our lands here.”
Bluestem, Buffalo and American Beakgrain, and Indian grass are native grass species in Oklahoma, according to a guide from the Oklahoma Native Plants Society.
Rosenfelt said part of the problem with invasive flora in Oklahoma is that people aren’t aware of what the landscape should look like. She said there are very few places to purchase native plants and that many popular landscaping stores don’t always sell plants that are native to the area where they are being sold.
“It's the way that people have been raised to look at landscapes and their yards,” Rosenfelt said. “It's been capitalized on by lawn mowing and the use of pesticides. It just becomes like a regular part of life.”
Rosenfelt’s art installation outside the Norman Central Library and will be on display starting in June of 2021. Rosenfelt said she hopes the project helps the community realize the natural beauty of Oklahoma.
“We are looked at as a flyover state,” Rosenfelt said. “But prairie land is really super diverse if you look close.”