Carrying the Torch: Rekindling prescribed fire in
Michigan’s prairie peninsula
On view in KNC’s Glen Vista Gallery
Saturday, June 3, 2023 – Monday, September 4, 2023
This art installation by artist and wildland firefighter Gillian Moore explores the unique fire ecology of the region through the visual arts. Probing the history, ecological dynamics, and cultural ethos surrounding fire on the landscape, it suggests through the presentation of the scientific evidence that to inhabit the prairie peninsula of southern Michigan is to be a mutualist with fire, a carrier of the torch.
An excerpt from the Artist and Curator’s Note:
The inspiration for this project came from many fronts: personal, professional, and academic. I arrived at the University of Michigan after two seasons as a wildland firefighter in the Western United States and returned in between the two years of my degree for a third season. I found my studies as a Masters student to be deeply satisfying and wonderfully challenging in a very different way than the time I put in on the fire line. But I left the Forest Service in Oregon to begin my Masters program only days before the Labor Day Fires of 2020 which burned over 1.2 million acres in the state, destroying thousands of structures, taking nine lives, and constituting the most destructive Oregon fire season on record. I felt caught between two worlds, yearning for a way to meaningfully connect my research with the experience and sense of purpose that I brought from my work in the wildland.
An exhibition about fire in Michigan was a golden opportunity to engage with the larger conversations about fire management, ecology, and public involvement with fire’s return to the landscape. Prescribed fire is an indispensable tool in restoration across a huge diversity of ecosystem types. Its implementation is vital to reduce fire risk in highly flammable places, but even where the threat of catastrophic wildfire looms large, practitioners experience significant public pushback when trying to get fire on the ground. In places like Michigan, the benefits of burning are largely enjoyed by oaks, massasauga rattlesnakes, wildflowers, prairie grasses, insects, and birds and the costs are borne by communities whose tax dollars and tolerance for unsightly smoke are not compensated by a reduction in risk. Knowledge about the needs of the ecosystem accompanied by care and affection for the species which comprise it are absolutely essential to motivate appropriate stewardship.
Carrying the Torch aims for synthesis of these many lessons. The organization of the exhibition follows loosely the narrative I have tried to capture here. Beginning with the view of fire as a destructive force that has weighted the perceptions of almost all who have engaged in some capacity with contemporary fire seasons, it contrasts the villain we have come to know with the ecological benefits of prescribed fire, with the rich and varied fire history in Michigan, with critiques of cultural attitudes promoting fire exclusion, with narrative storytelling about species whose existence is reliant on its return, and with practical illustrations of fire’s functioning within local ecosystems. It hopes to inform and inspire questions—not only about particular ecological details of the Michigan landscape—but about the fundamental ecological relationship that humanity bears to fire. It endeavors to highlight not only the ways in which our activities are responsible for disrupting natural systems and communities, but the ways in which they have been responsible for creating and shaping them for millennia. We are neglecting the role that we established for ourselves within nature long ago—the role of the fire species, the carriers of torches. More broadly, the exhibition shares as its mission that of many environmental outreach initiatives which have come before it: to inform people about the places in which they live, inspiring through knowledge a love and sense of responsibility for the land and the living things upon it including each other. Aldo Leopold wrote in the Sand County Almanac that “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to treat it with love and respect.” While this truth extends to many dimensions of the human interaction with our environment, there is no question that we belong to fire, it to us, and all of us to the land.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2022
Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the Arboretum on a self-guided Sculpture Tour. Some are easy to find, such as the beautiful marble “Snowy Owl” by Paul Keeslar. Others, like Robert Cumpston’s “Squirrel,” are a bit more of a fun challenge … see if you can find his hiding place!
Stop in to Guest Services for a copy of the Sculpture Tour brochure. Online version coming soon!
Glen Vista Gallery
The Glen Vista Gallery is a 1,300 square foot gallery space which acts as a space for artists to exhibit nature-related artwork. NOTE: While the gallery is typically open to the public, there are certain times when the space will be reserved for a special event, class, or other organization. Please call ahead at 269-381-1574 ext. 0 to verify gallery hours.
Buy Local Art & Gift Fair
Saturday, December 2, 2023 9:00am-4:00pm open to public with free admission
Call for artists open June – September >
KNC’s annual Buy Local Art & Gift Fair is not your ordinary art fair! More than 50 local artisans transform the Visitor Center with their creative displays and top-quality work. Visitors enjoy chatting with artists and vendors, surrounded by the beauty of the winter woods.