Helping our communities

Preserving the stories and culture of Nicodemus, Kansas

Leah Edwards, recent MLA graduate, looked at the history of Nicodemus, Kansas for her master’s report titled History, Identity, Art: visually expressing Nicodemus, Kansas’ identity. Read about Edwards’ research and creativity process below.

1)     Can you briefly describe your master’s report and how the exhibit at Nicodemus correlated with it?

My master’s report, titled History, Identity, Art: visually expressing Nicodemus, Kansas’ identity, focused on researching the history of Nicodemus, Kansas and then creating art pieces which express this history and identity. The fall semester (2013) of my 5th year was spent doing the historical research, which included oral histories from four descendants and residents of Nicodemus: Angela Bates, JohnElla Holmes, Sharyn Dowdell, and Veryl Switzer. The spring semester (2014) was spent focusing on the creation of the art pieces.

2)     Why did you decide to focus your report on Nicodemus?

I have always had a strong interest in history and culture of a landscape and place. When I was looking for a “site” for my master’s report, I wanted a place with significant history and where I could explore my interest in historical landscapes and places. My major professor, Katie Kingery-Page, suggested Nicodemus. I went out there in early October and, after talking with Ms. Angela Bates and exploring the community, I decided Nicodemus, with its ties to the Exoduster movement, its rural setting, and community support, was the appropriate research setting.

3)     What inspired your pieces?

The inspiration for each piece came from the life of the community. The support the community has for their history and their ancestor’s history is the primary inspiration for each piece. Support and traditions of the community are the primary inspirations for the art pieces.

4)     What was the process for creating the art work?

The process for creating the art work was done in two phases during the spring semester. The first phase was called “experiment phase” where I produced pieces quickly and pushed as many ideas of how to interpret the history as I could. After presenting these pieces at my mid-critique, I transitioned into a “focus phase” of creating. This phase took comments and successful pieces from the first phase and turned them around to create more finished and refined pieces of art. This was the main body of work presented during the final defense and at the National Park Service Visitor’s Center in Nicodemus, Kansas.

5)     Looking back, what was the biggest challenge you faced with this project?

The biggest challenge was researching and creating in a non-traditional form for landscape architects. Artistic practice, while I believe is quite relevant in the profession of landscape architecture, is not the ‘norm’ for most professional landscape architects. While I had a great support team from my major professor and committee members; Katie, La Barbara James Wigfall, and Jon Hunt along with department head Stephanie Rolley, there were times I felt that I was proving that my project and purpose was valuable to the profession.

6)     What did you enjoy most about this project?

I enjoyed creating, making, and expressing through art. It was something different than what I was used to producing in school and I felt more independent and in control of my project. As much as I was creating for the community of Nicodemus, Kansas, the project was also a very personal one.

7)     What was the most interesting fact you learned throughout the process?

I learned that hot glue is one of the most annoying adhesive materials out there. But in all seriousness, the entire history of Nicodemus, Kansas was one interesting fact to me. Before the project, I knew of it because of a previous project that some of my classmates did a few years ago (the Van Alen Parks for the People competition honorable mention winner). However, I didn’t know the specific history of why these people moved to Kansas, what their journey was like, how the people made a living, the growth and decline of the community, and what made it so significant to the time period it was founded. Nicodemus was the most interesting fact I learned.

8)     How long was your exhibit on display at Nicodemus?

The exhibit was set up in the National Park Service Visitor’s Center at Nicodemus, also known as the Township Hall, from May 12, 2014 to May 30, 2014. The Nicodemus Historical Society is now is possession of most of the art pieces and will display and use them as they see fit.

9)     How do you hope your master’s project translates into your career?

I want to have a professional career in the field of cultural and historical landscapes. Through the research in my master’s project, I discovered the existence of the field and the many opportunities, especially in the National Park Service, to preserve landscapes. A landscape is a term that has evolved to include not only a grassy terrain but also a community, a park, and even a sidewalk or street. Therefore, humans interact with a landscape every minute, every hour, every day. These landscapes hold culture, stories, and a way of life. I want to preserve those stories and those cultures; I want to be an advocate for acknowledging the history of a landscape so that landscape architecture can incorporate that past in future activity and design.

Since graduating in May, Edwards has been a historic landscapes intern at the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) in Natchitoches, Louisiana (pronounced nak-a-tish). The NCPTT is a part of the National Park Service and the Department of Interior. Its purpose is to advance the application of science and technology to historic preservation in the fields of archaeology, architecture, landscape architecture, and materials conservation. She has been working on the first phase of a five-phase project in documenting the evolution of the field of cultural and historic landscapes. This involves researching literature, key people, and key policies that have had an impact since the mid-1970s when the field began to develop.

To read Edwards full master’s report, click here.

Collaborating on a New Park for Jetmore

Landscape architecture and planning students teamed up to help the residents of Jetmore, Kansas this past spring. The experience gave them a taste of the working relationships between the two professions while assisting Jetmore’s Park-It committee in re-envisioning Jetmore’s city park. The students were enrolled in PLAN 699-B: Collective Decisions, taught by Assistant Professor Huston Gibson, and LAR 320: Site Design Studio 2, taught by Assistant Professors Anne Beamish and Jessica Canfield.

“This project allowed (planning) students to experience and run a public meeting as a community engagement effort,” Gibson said. “They also then got to see first-hand how a working relationship with a design team can help further the input from the community, generating new ideas based on the public input, and see the communities response to the designs based on the original public workshops held.”

The planning students worked as one group with clear, individual roles for each student. One product delivered from the class was a document titled City Park Input: An Outlook for Change. The report discussed the history of parks, the five-phase park planning process, why parks are important, and included a summary of the Jetmore’s site opportunities and constraints and documentation of all of the student-led meetings and correspondence. The report also addressed potential opportunities for future park funding.

Landscape architecture students gained experience developing design solutions that took into consideration the opportunities and constraints of the site, as well as the community wishes which were identified by the planning students. The results were park design proposals for creating a destination that is inclusive and vibrant, while carefully considering ADA accessibility, budget, maintenance, and project phasing.

Landscape architecture students initially worked in research teams of three that collected, summarized, and shared information on physical, vegetation and soil attributes of the site; town life and history; and the region’s climate, hydrology, soils, and context. They then divided into design teams of two to prepare design proposals.

“The design teams developed their designs over a period of four weeks,” Beamish said. “In addition to the large 36” x 48” presentation boards with plans and perspectives, each team provided an 11” x 17” book that described their design in more detail, including planting, grading, materials, lighting, and phasing strategies.”

Both classes led an open-house style presentation on May 3rd to present their proposals to the community. Community members visited with each design team. Students were well prepared to discuss the details of their particular design proposals and to answer any questions.

“The community was so energetic and welcoming, they made for great clients,” Canfield said. “The students had a fantastic experience.”

The professors agreed that they hope the community gained a “heightened sense of community in relation to the city park through the engagement efforts, new conceptual ideas generated for the park’s redesign and a surge of energy and excitement to carry forth the community effort of renovating the city park.“

Although this project is complete for the students, it is ongoing for Jetmore. The design boards and books, along with the City Park Input Document, are located in city hall for public display and comment. The city, and more particularly the Park-It Committee, intends to springboard from these efforts a newly renovated park.