Mel Chin (American, born 1951)
1994. Oil on canvas, 144 x 240 x 600". 1999.001
Spirit is Mel Chin’s meditation on the “tall-grass prairie,” a lost American landscape that once extended from Minnesota to Texas. The monumental barrel—nine feet in diameter and seemingly precariously balanced—recalls the casks that were so essential to American frontier life for transporting and storing grains, pork, oil, liquor, and gunpowder. By the late nineteenth century, the increasing demands of agriculture, commerce, and industry had set in motion an inexorable reshaping of the landscape. This process resulted in the reduction of the indigenous ecosystem to, in Chin’s words, “a thin green line,” rep- resented here by the rope that is woven of endangered grasses, which he received permission to cut and use.