As his train left Chicago’s west side ghetto and he rode out to the native prairie at the city’s edge, Jens Jensen felt his lungs and his mind open up. Here he would have an almost mystical vision. If the prairie possessed the power to heal him, then he must bring its rejuvenating spirit back into the city.
Chicago in his day was dirty, unplanned, corrupt and devastating to the land and people. Jensen had left Denmark not only because of the Prussian invasion, but for the love of a woman below his social class. To marry, they had to immigrate to America. Beginning his new life as a street sweeper, Jensen witnessed children playing in rat-infested streets and on heaps of horse dung. He smelled the stench of slaughtered animals in the canals beside the Union Stockyards.
Jens Jensen became a radical idealist. His vision ran counter to the great wave of industrial expansion Chicago was riding. He wrote, “To shut out nature from man’s whole life is to shut out the inspiration of noble and humanitarian things.” Here it was – his shockingly new vision that we need nourishment from the natural world to fully realize our potential.
He designed and built his idealized prairies, creating four great Chicago west side parks. Compared to the bleakness of the over-crowded city – his parks were a hit with the public. For one of his masterpieces, the Fern Room at the Garfield Park Conservatory, he created a Pre-Cambrian era native Illinois landscape. It looked so real visitors wondered if he had just built the glass dome over the original ancient acres.
But Chicago was a cesspool of political corruption...
For more information, please visit: Jens Jensen Harmonious World.
Jens Jensen Legacy Project
Jens Jensen (Wikipedia)
Jens Jensen: Friend of the Native Landscape by Julia Sniderman Bachrach
The Architectural Drawings of Jens Jensen
The Clearing (established by Jens Jensen)