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Alexandra Janezic Is in the Tallgrass

Tallgrass Prairie

Alexandra Janezic is a visual artist, bookbinder, and letterpress printer. She makes broadsides, artist books, and fine press prints focusing on the tie between social ideals of the past and how they manifest in the present. Her artist books are held in public and private collections, including the Library of Congress and Yale University. She is currently finishing up her letterpress printed artist book, One Hundred and Twenty-Four Dis/satisfied Women. Her work can be found at

I am currently working on my next book project, Terre Firma, the impetus of which began while I was in an artist residency in May, 2016 at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve in central Kansas. I received my undergraduate degree in the Flint Hills of Kansas, where I came to know the beauty of witnessing the seasons there. Every spring I was in awe of what was once a shallow sea floor, now a verdant expanse of grass over gently sloping hills and valleys, and I was elated to be able to take some contemplative time and space to observe and make something from my discoveries.

Tallgrass Prairie

Tallgrass Prairie

My work is often composed of small typographic parts, positioned to make larger narratives. Which is to say, I work fairly abstractly, trying not to directly represent an idea or object.

The Tallgrass prairie is an ideal landscape in which to think about small parts creating wholes, as a sea of grass that was once a prehistoric ocean is actually a complex ecosystem made up of thousands of components. You can view ancient, fossilized limestone made up of exposed multilayered tiers. Just over the hill, a herd of buffalo grazing on fresh green hills. On sunny days, you can pass the day watching the subtle intensity of the sun coming to its apex and waning. Huge groves of cottonwood trees, crowded densely around springs on the preserve, bending their thick elbows to touch the ground, their presence indicating a consistent source of water.

In this landscape you can also witness how humans interact with the land, and how this relationship has irrevocably altered the ecosystem. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was established in 1996. This prairie used to cover 170 million acres of North America; now, less than 4% currently remains. From the 1800s until very recently, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was a cattle ranch, so there are still elements of the property that retain the presence of its pioneering Anglo-inhabitants. The buildings of stacked limestone from the surrounding area still remain, as do the grazing cattle in the spring.

from A New Discovery, by Louis Hennepin

from A Practical Guide to Prairie Reconstruction, by Carl Kurtz

I am currently in the concept development phase of this project, working on making a cohesive narrative that includes the geologic, indigenous, and Anglo-history of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. At the moment, I am not looking to make hard and fast decisions about the way the book should be laid out. I am accumulating information and imagery that will either be used or edited out during the layout process. Initially, I bookmark material that I like, but may not be completely sure about.

I’ve also been looking to see how the prairie has been artistically depicted and described in the past. I’ve been particularly drawn to the work of Terry Evans for this project, as she has spent time in many of the same places that I am researching. I also feel that she has been successful at making compelling work about the Midwest and the Prairie. The writing of Louis Hennepin, and some of the first images and descriptions of North America, have also been enlightening. I have found that the maps in this book have a form and a drawing style that I would like to emulate.

from “Prairie: Images of Ground and Sky,” by Terry Evans

from “Prairie: Images of Ground and Sky,” by Terry Evans

photo from

Source materials for my current research include: Undermining by Lucy Lippard; The Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Seed and Seedling Identification in the Upper Midwest by Dave Williams; Heartland by Terry Evans; Prairie: Images of Ground and Sky by Terry Evans; Prairie Grasses Identified and Described by Vegetative Characteristics by Jan Looman; A New Discovery by Louis Hennepin, from the University of Iowa Special Collections.

Below are a few examples of content that I have gathered, which I am considering for spreads: the texture of fossilized limestone (potentially blind embossed, or printed in a gradient); an illustration of a Compass Plant, with an explanation of why the pioneers called it such— they believed the leaves pointed in the North-South directions (though it was not always reliable); an excerpt on how the ecosystem of the prairie is still a mysterious place in regards to science (i.e. human understanding); a specimen of bluestem grass, impressed between the leaves of the book, leaving its imprint on the opposing page.

Notes: limestone rubbings

Notes: compass plant

Sketch of the Tallgrass landscape

Concurrently with content, I am taking into account the materials that should be used to make this edition. I usually try to pick a book structure from the get-go, as I feel structure is an important aspect in determining what the contents of a book should be doing. For example, based on the content from the examples above, I feel that the book should have the feeling of a field guide; as such, the book should have the look of a half-cloth book, like the book structure in the image from Terry Evans photo below, with a paste paper or marbled covering material.

photo from

Other examples having to do with material considerations: There will be a deluxe and standard edition—with the deluxe incorporating materials native to the Tallgrass prairie (if possible, using repurposed cottonwood boards for covers). There will be no more than 10 of the deluxe edition if adequate wooden boards are found.

Potential structures for the standard edition

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