Artist turned environmentalist makes HP home

Painter Chapman Kelley now calls Hyde Park his home after living in Dallas for the past nine years. His roots in Chicago go deeper than his successful art career, and he has returned to get back to the “nature” of things in finishing what he started years ago.

Kelley’s house overflows with his work; there isn’t enough wall space for the multitude of pieces he has created. However, Kelley’s greatest life work is not on a canvas, but has been his passion for the environment, which culminated in 1984 in his famous “Wildflower Works” in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Kelley’s “Wildflower Works” brought beautiful color and vibrant life to Grant Park during its 20 year run, all using native plants to the area.

“It made everything really showy and blazing in color…it was like a real life painting,” Kelley said.

The project took over 1.5 acres of Grant Park and transformed the area into public artwork. Volunteers and Kelley himself maintained the landscape, and no chemical fertilizers or insecticides were ever used on the plants.

In “Wildflower Works,” Kelley soon discovered the importance and benefits that native plants bring to its surrounding environment. He said that his project saved the Chicago Park District an estimated $6.6 million over the years it thrived in the park.

Flowering plants that are native to the area include the Rough Blazing Star, the New England Aster, the Black-Eyed Susan, the Prairie Violet and the Wild Petunia. These plants offer benefits to insects and birds and are rain garden plants, which help prevent pollutants from entering storm drains and nearby waters.

Now, Kelley is concerned with informing the public on the benefits of native plants and educating on how to maintain the plants that are essential to an urban ecosystem.

“It’s a whole different way of growing things,” he said. “You have to learn how to prevent and get rid of non-native plants and learn how to keep up the native plants.”

Late last year, Kelley formed the non-profit education organization, Wildflower Works Foundation. Through the foundation, he has been able to form a group of people as passionate as him about the environmentalist movement and the native plants cause he has pushed for since the ‘70s.

Every Sunday afternoon, Kelley holds what he refers to as a “salon” at his Kenwood home, where a diverse mix of people meet to discuss ways to carry out the Wildflower Works Foundation’s goals.

One of the goals is to incorporate wildflowers and native plants in future developments in Chicago. In all three concepts for the Obama Presidential Library, native plants are included as part of the plans.

Kelley hopes to have scientists back the foundation with research to help educate and create change in what he hopes to turn into a progressive movement of environmentalism.

Despite his renowned success in the art world, this foundation has become Kelley’s best masterpiece, and he has no regrets.

“My whole life has been serendipity,” he said. “Some things are more gratifying than just getting rich.”


[Via: Hyde Park Herald]

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