Fossil Park mural brings prairie land to life

By Kelly Terpstra,

Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of Iowa’s once vast prairie land is all that remains.

Tall switchgrass, compass plants and beautiful wild flowers like black-eyed Susan comprised much of Iowa’s topography centuries ago.

When visitors stroll into the Fossil and Prairie Center near Rockford this spring, they’ll notice a new artistic addition courtesy of Charles City’s Robin Macomber that brings that prairie to life.

Macomber, owner of Whimsical Touch Decorative Painting, recently teamed up with Floyd County Conservation to recreate that vibrant prairie life with a mural that encompasses the bubble wall in the prairie center.

“Robin did a really nice job,” said Floyd County Conservation Director Adam Sears. “We’re real happy with that.”

Among an array of exhibits in the center, the mural is the second piece that Macomber has done for Floyd County Conservation. She created a three-dimensional oak tree last year that resides in the center.

The mural is set to scale and shows life-sized art of what the prairie looked like 150 years ago.

“What I ended up doing is everything is very much in the foreground. That’s where all the attention is. All the focal point is on those very last plants in the very front,” said Macomber.

Macomber first drew a sketch and presented it to the conservation staff.

“Actually, they looked at my sketch and it was not the way they wanted to go. So we talked it through and I ended up going a different way than what my original sketch was,” she said.

Macomber’s first sketch focused more on the background of the prairie and rolling hills. So she tweaked and changed the sketch to accentuate what was right in front of the viewer’s vantage point.

“Probably the original was a draw-you-in and take-you-into and you can see way back into the horizon line,” said Macomber. “They just really wanted to make sure that people could identify the individual plants and the sizes that they were.”

Macomber replastered and smoothed out the bubble wall, then she put down the base paint.

“I always paint from the back to the front,” said Macomber. “I do enjoy it so much.”

The process to complete the life-sized mural took 10 days.

“It’s pretty much a normal process. Fifty percent of the time I come in with a drawing and people say, ‘yep, that’s what I want.’ The other 50 percent is, ‘nope, that’s not it,’” Macomber said.

Macomber has had her business in Charles City since 1996. She said 90 percent of her art work is done in new home construction and remodeling.

“I get lots of opportunities in private spaces,” said Macomber.

Some of her artwork resides in the Cresco Nature Center and the hospital in Waverly.

“I’m more a commission artist that likes to paint something pretty,” said Macomber.

The mural’s lifelike qualities of a rabbit peeking out from under the prairie grass and native birds resting on a big bluestem seem almost real.

That’s the beauty of Macomber’s prairie piece.

“It’s not real decorative. It’s going to be there a long time,” Macomber said.