Pegi Christiansen: Distance 6

April 8, 2015

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts by Pegi Christiansen, who is a Lynden artist in residence through October 2015. As part of her project, Distance, Pegi will accompany people, in groups of up to three, on their first trip to Lynden. She will pick them up, drive them out, take a walk with them, and bring them back. As part of the excursion, she will ask some questions about distance. If you are interested in participating in this aspect of Pegi's project, please call 414-446-8794 or email and mention you are interested in a “distance visit.”

It was a cloudy, chilly morning in March when Jodi Eastberg drove me, along with five of her Alverno students, to Lynden, where we met up with eight more members of the class.

The class is focused on “place,” so my questions were related to this concept. When Harry and Peg Bradley bought Lynden, it was a farm. They hired a landscape architecture firm, Langford & Moreau, known for designing golf courses to shape the cornfield into something else. Later Peg Bradley added sculptures. Looking out over the sculpture garden, I asked what Lynden felt like to the students. Some of the words they mentioned were open, tranquil, and family friendly.

Photo: Jodi Eastberg
Alverno students discuss ideas about place with Hara watching. Photo: Jodi Eastberg

The students had read “Place,” an essay by Tim Cresswell. It made me think about the tension between globalism and regionalism. In western cultures, have places become homogenized, or are differences between places stronger? For Jessica, who grew up near Chicago, Milwaukee and Chicago seem very similar to her. They are both by Lake Michigan and, she noted, “All cities have the same street names.” Erin contrasted urban and rural spaces. She said cities have become “consumer cultures,” with people consumed with buying the newest hot thing. She would prefer to live in a rural area with more privacy and without another house visible from the windows.

Lynden has been evaluating another tension. There is a beauty to Lynden having no paths, except for the service road around the exterior. Yet for those in wheelchairs or those who have trouble walking on uneven grass, it would be helpful to have paths. Executive Director Polly Morris has investigated installing paths made out of a special grass, rather than chips or concrete, which would not hinder meandering.

Mariah has been to the Schlitz Audubon Center, where there are paths similar to most nature centers. Many of us are so used to paths that some of the students were not sure if it was okay to walk on the grass and waited to follow my lead. “If there was a subtle way to do it,” said Chelsey, she thought the paths Polly is considering would be a good idea.

Lynden rests within River Hills. River Hills, in order to create a community for “country living,” has ordinances that forbid any commercial development and all lots currently need to be at least five acres. I asked whether people living in exclusive River Hills could relate to issues of people living in Milwaukee’s segregated central city, which the class has been studying. Nikki thought they might be able to sympathize, but not empathize. “You can’t understand someone else’s struggles unless you have walked in their shoes.”

The students needed time to complete an assignment, so we went our separate ways and then gathered in the conference room to meet with Polly. River Hills came up again. When the Bradley family established Lynden as a weekend retreat, they drove out on a two-lane dirt road. There was a geographical distance between the Allen-Bradley factory in Walker's Point, where they lived, and Lynden. Now, it is a fifteen-minute drive away. Polly called Lynden an “oasis” in close proximity to urban Milwaukee, but many people have a sense of psychological distance from Lynden based on “the perception of wealth and a family having so much land and a huge sculpture collection.”

Photo: Jodi Eastberg
Students work on an assignment. Photo: Jodi Eastberg

The class wanted to know how the sculptures had been sited on the property. Polly explained that ideas about how to place outdoor sculptures change. Currently it is more common (especially in larger sculpture gardens), to place sculptures independent of one another, in their own environments. Peg Bradley liked to be able to see as many of the sculptures as possible from her porch, and grouped them together to allow for what Polly calls “conversations between them.”

On the ride back to Alverno, Jodi mentioned the three students in the back of the van were sitting in the “best friends seat.” This led to a discussion about personal space. In different cultures more or less distance is appropriate between people who are not related. The seat in the back should have felt too close for comfort, but the three students looked cozy.

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