NDSU architecture student Nicholas Anderson listens as Professor Regin Schwaen discusses student Crystal Rinkenberger’s Fargo Fern Grotto rendering; photo by Karis Thompson
This month’s Defiant Gardens for Fargo-Moorhead blog features an extended update on the Fern Grotto for Fargo, one of the three Defiant Garden projects commissioned by the Plains Art Museum.
In February, architecture students enrolled in Regin Schwaen’s Fargo Fern Grotto seminar hoped to connect and collaborate with Fern Grotto artist Mark Dion who canceled his Fargo visit due to a family illness. In lieu of this planned interaction with Mark, students continue to evolve their translations of Mark’s designs for the Fargo site as they engage a range of advisors.
This week, horticulturist Esther McGinnis introduced the class to ferns native to North Dakota and Minnesota, along with a range of exotics, and described each fern’s preferred environment and requirements for thriving. Esther’s presentation and the discussion afterward invited the students to think about a host of design requirements for maintaining ferns – soil depth and drainage, watering and nutrient-delivery systems, light, day and night time temperatures, humidity levels, space for growth and pest control. This list of tactical design parameters shifted perception of the grotto’s ferns as a decorative draw for human visitors to consideration of ferns as primary inhabitants of the boxcar and clients with specific criteria for their built environment.
The class’ visit to the Fern Room at Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, St. Paul, MN, introduced them to the conservatory’s more than 100 exhibited species of ferns and fern allies and offered a two-hour respite from this year’s severe winter temperatures and winds. Regin and the class will continue to think through the respective challenges of cultivating native fern species requiring a period of winter dormancy or exotic species necessitating year-round greenhouse conditions and tending. They plan to visit North Dakota State University’s greenhouse complex—a facility three football fields in length—and possibly engage with Dr. Chiwon Lee who teaches greenhouse production to learn more about greenhouse design.
Alongside their work translating Mark Dion’s concept for Fargo-Moorhead’s dramatic climate, students have been thinking about how this fern grotto might resonate with and reflect the identity and ethos of this community. Student Crystal Rinkenberger suggested incorporating yellow bricks from the 110-year-old local Hebron Brick Company into the design to tie the grotto concretely to its particular community.
Colleen Sheehy, Defiant Gardens project director, joined the newly formed 15-member City of Fargo Public Art Taskforce this February. The taskforce’s initial meeting introduced members to the city’s goal of developing a master plan for public art in Fargo. City Commissioner Melissa Sobolik invited Jack Becker, executive director, Forecast Public Art, to speak to the group at their next meeting on March 14. Colleen describes the taskforce as a significant next step furthering the efforts of the Plains Art Museum and Fargo-Moorhead artists to advance public art and creative placemaking.
The museum’s collaboration with architecture students and role on the public art taskforce afford avenues for elevating conversation about public art and creative placemaking and strengthening the network and work of artist, community leaders and others invested in enriching communities and enlivening spaces. We look forward to seeing how this collaboration with 4th and 5th year architecture students and the work of the public art taskforce might develop new creative placemaking practitioners and advocates within our community and region.