Rod Mebane has lived in Geneva since 1991 with his wife and four children. His fourth, Emma, was born in Geneva. She was accepted into Illinois State University as an art major, but passed away shortly after at only 19 years old. Rod explains, “As you can imagine, when you lose a child it has a pretty significant impact on your life and there were many changes that occurred. One of the changes that happened to us is that we did a lot of walking, thinking, and remembering. We often did walks at Peck Farm Park in Geneva, which is on the west side of Geneva, very pristine in its appearance.”
It was during one of those walks at Peck Farm Park that Rod and his wife Donna formed the idea of Prairie Girl. Inspired by the large, beautiful prairie setting around 400 acres, Rod and Donna reminisced on a visual they had of their daughter, Emma, from a field trip to a prairie school. They then had a thought, as Rod says, “Wouldn’t it be nice to create a sculpture that would really capture the whole essence of this natural beauty that we’re seeing all around us?”
He knew the name for this sculpture would be Prairie Girl, and while the idea was created when thinking of Emma, Rod explains Prairie Girl is not Emma, “Her friends say she taught other people how to shine. That’s a quality we hoped we might see in Prairie Girl but beyond those factors, that’s where the connection between Emma and Prairie Girl stops. Prairie Girl is meant to have a life of her own. She’s meant to be meaningful to people who come to see her.”
Rod created a vision board, full of ideas of what this sculpture might look like, all the while hoping it would be created and end up in Peck Farm Park, where the idea of Prairie Girl was born.
Rod was connected with local sculptor/artist, Larry Johnson, who took on the project. Together, they collaborated with the Geneva Foundation for the Arts, a key partner in the project coming to fruition.
Larry explains the process of creating the sculpture, “Prairie girl, start to finish, probably encompassed a period of about a year and a half… Once I met the client, Rod and Donna Mebane of Geneva, and we started talking about the concept, we took our time in a very collaborative fashion to actually determine what the overall piece was going to look like, what message we were going to convey. Once the piece was approved, we started scaling it up into life size in clay and started the whole process.”
Learning about the Geneva Foundation for the Arts with the Prairie Girl project, Rod explains the process, “Working with the Foundation was a very positive experience. To be honest I didn’t know about the organization initially – I think it was beginning when we were formulating our thoughts. Larry has had involvement with the GFA so he created a connection for us. The project fit nicely into what the Foundation was hoping to accomplish with its early projects and the fact that it was in Geneva helped to round out this whole notion that this piece really is organic to the community. From a working stand point it was very straightforward. There was a grant application that was sent to me, I submitted it, and a short period of time later got the green light that the Foundation was interested and willing to help support our project.”
As Rod explains, “In a sense, Prairie Girl is intended to represent the wonder of youth and the spirit of life as Emma exhibited it and as other kids exhibit it. If I had to say Prairie Girl is a tribute to anything I would say she’s a tribute to all children, and particularly children who are lost. I think that’s where I really encourage people to find their meaning in Prairie Girl as something between them and the work of art itself.”
About the Artist, Larry Johnson
Larry Johnson has a BFA from Fontbonne University, St. Louis, in Painting and Sculpture. He also has an MFA from Southern Illinois University in Sculpture, plus graduate studies at the University of Chicago. He worked for IBM for 31 years, putting his passion for the arts on hold. After retirement, Larry opened a studio and resumed his sculpting processes. Larry has lived with his family in Geneva for 29 years.