ISU lecturer incorporates three ecosystems into sculpture for Jester Park Nature Center

Whispers of Nature fabrication

Reinaldo Correa, architecture lecturer, began fabrication of "Whispers of Nature" this summer. A model of the final sculpture is seen here. Photo provided by Reinaldo Correa. Larger image.

AMES, Iowa – You can find Polk County’s three major ecosystems – prairie, woodlands and wetlands – at Jester Park in Granger. Soon, you’ll be able to see all of those elements incorporated into a sculpture designed by an Iowa State University lecturer.

Reinaldo Correa, architecture lecturer, is constructing “Whispers of Nature,” a sculpture for the new Jester Park Nature Center, described as the park’s “front porch.” The center’s grand opening celebration is Sunday, Aug. 5, from 1 to 5 p.m.

Located on the western edge of Saylorville Lake, Jester Park’s 1,675 acres include a natural playscape, bison and elk enclosure, restored woodlands and a network of trails that immerse visitors in nature. Jester Park Nature Center's vision is to serve as one of Iowa's leading nature centers and as a place where education and tourism intersect.

The Polk County Conservation Public Art Committee chose Correa’s design from more than 25 submissions.

During his site visits to the park, Correa’s “Whispers” was inspired by the prairie, woodlands and wetlands combined with the new nature center’s mission of conservation, education and outdoor recreation.

“Iowa continually surprises me with its beauty,” Correa said. “When you think of whispers, you don’t notice them at first – they’re subtle. But if you focus and hone in on the experience, you start to grasp the things we take for granted. If you stop to appreciate these things, you can understand their amazing value.” 

Whispers of Nature cut pattern

Reinaldo Correa worked with North Polk Middle School
students this spring, their artwork inspiring the cut
patterns he eventually designed for "Whispers of
Nature." Photo provided by Reinaldo Correa. Larger

Correa had some help in the design process. He worked with North Polk Middle School art students, whose drawings Correa synthesized and arranged into final designs for the three rings cascading up the 12-foot-tall, tree-like sculpture. Each ring is made of weathering steel, which will develop a rusty patina. Correa laser cut the designs into the rings – each ring representing one of the three ecosystems.

A fourth ring near eye level allows visitors to reflect upon Iowa’s ecological history, as well as their own conservation efforts. Correa also installed stainless steel spheres throughout the sculpture, a metaphor for the droplets of water he captured during a site visit, as well as another opportunity for visitors to reflect on their role in conservation.

His observations of the prairie grasses and pine trees caught in the wind, as well as geometry repeating itself in nature, are shown in the stainless-steel rods shooting up through the structure.

“The focus of Polk County Conservation's artwork initiative is to provide unique experiences through art to highlight specific areas throughout the county,” said Doug Romig, deputy director of Polk County Conservation. “Whispers of Nature is our first commissioned piece that was created to represent Iowa's pre-settlement landscapes at the entrance to the Jester Park Nature Center as a gateway to the outdoors.”

Correa used photography, video, sound recordings and sketches to capture the site for his piece. “Whispers” tells the story of Iowa’s history as primarily prairie, as well as the diminishing forest cover and wetlands.

“Art is sometimes taken for granted and seen as an amenity,” Correa said. “But art can relay a story and allow us to think about our role in different themes and narratives.”

Whispers rendering

Rendering of "Whispers of Nature." Provided by Reinaldo Correa.