Archive for February, 2010

Was Madison Landscape imaginary or real?

February 28, 2010

John Steuart Curry, The Tragic Prelude John Steuart Curry was the University of Wisconsin’s artist in residence when he finished this controversial mural of John Brown for the Kansas state capitol. The same year (1941), Curry painted Madison Landscape, now on view at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art‘s Apple Pie exhibition.

Amazingly, Curry’s perspective in Madison Landscape is almost exactly as if he set his easel on Dead Lake Ridge, the 80-foot moraine above Monona Bay that appears in our blog banner. The ridge (covered with effigy mounds) was quarried for sand and gravel and disappeared by about 1915.

Though Curry arrived in Madison 20 years later, he might have heard about Dead Lake Ridge and tried to recreate it in Madison Landscape. Then I found his artist’s statement: “… a view of Madison and Lake Mendota seen from a hypothetical hill.” So it’s just coincidence: to show off Madison’s isthmus, Curry invented a high point at the same location as the old dividing ridge.

Photo challenge of the week (#5)

February 22, 2010

A dozen outdoor sculptures by Madisonian Sid Boyum make up almost a quarter of the city’s public art. Boyum’s works can be playful, rustic, or Asian-inspired. He died in 1991, and a decade later neighbors moved Boyum’s sculptures out of his backyard for public display (see video). On what street is this Sid Boyum sculpture located? Click the photo to enlarge, and send your answer by next Monday (how to play photo challenge).

We may have been too clever in our last photo challenge, which asked for the old name of this lake. A close look shows the latest installment of Madison’s replica Statue of Liberty, so the lake is Mendota. Until 1855, Mendota was known as Fourth Lake. Why such a mathematical name? Federal surveyors mapping Wisconsin used the Wisconsin-Illinois border as a baseline. Among the Four Lakes, Lake Kegonsa was reached first and called First Lake. That meant Mendota was Fourth Lake.

Photo challenge of the week (#4)

February 16, 2010

photo of week 4aWe promise we’re not obsessed with Madison’s frozen lakes. This week’s photo challenge is straightforward—with a twist. What was the name of this Madison lake before its current name? Click the photo to enlarge, and see the clue you need. Send an answer by next Monday (how to play photo challenge).

The last two challenges have featured beavers (#2) and coyotes (#3), animals not usually considered urban. Lake Wingra has a special advantage for wildlife: the 1,200-acre UW arboretum. The outlines of Wingra marsh haven’t changed in 80 years.

Coyotes are so adaptable they often live more successfully in cities than rural areas. Chicago, for example, has a coyote population around 2,000. Nobody knows Madison’s population, but coyotes are in the news recently for migrating to the city and preying on pets. The great irony is that hating the coyote (and fearing its wolf cousin), we spent a couple centuries trying to destroy them. Now coyotes are moving in with us.

Photo challenge of the week (#3)

February 8, 2010

photo of week 3Last week’s challenge asked you to identify a structure standing near a spring on Lake Wingra. Though it looks like a king-sized muskrat lodge, it belongs to a beaver. This corner of Wingra has plenty of beaver sign, both the usual—chewed trees such as this one—and unusual: a chewed boardwalk just yards from the lodge, where the beaver has rounded the edge for more comfortable travel.

Now to this week’s photo challenge (how to play). Tracks of a wide-ranging mammal crisscross Wingra marsh and the southwest margin of Lake Wingra. Other signs include a possible bed and, sometimes at night, its voice. Given these clues, what animal do these tracks belong to?

Governor’s trout pond

February 6, 2010

We continue our Lake Wingra tour at Deep Hole spring, just up the Edgewood boardwalk from New Millennium spring. The name fits: in the 1870s, Wisconsin governor Cadwallader Washburn walled in Deep Hole to raise trout, a coldwater fish. In our century the spring has been reclaimed from thick brush that obscured it. Unseen Madison hero Charles Brown described Deep Hole spring in 1927:

“This large spring was on the very edge of and partly in the lake itself. It was surrounded by rushes and was at times a retreat for large fish. Governor Washburn when he lived at Edgewood caused it to be stoned in and stocked with trout, and it was commonly spoken of as Governor Washburn’s trout pond.”

To say Cadwallader Washburn led a full life is an understatement. He donated the Edgewood villa to the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, who formed an academy that became Edgewood.

Photo challenge of the week (#2)

February 1, 2010

First, let’s answer photo challenge #1: Lake Wingra has open water here because of a spring. New Millennium spring, located near the boardwalk at Edgewood College, appeared in 2000. Lake Wingra’s springs may explain why it was at the center of an incredibly dense concentration of effigy mounds. About 8 of the lake’s original 30 springs still flow—reduced groundwater affects spring output.

Sharp-eyed viewers of photo #1 may notice an odd shape in the upper right, seen again here. What is this structure? Both photos are from our Lake Wingra slideshow. Send us your answer by next Monday (how to play photo challenge). Later this week we’ll post video of another Wingra spring.