About This Project

Land & Water

Public Field Guide is an artist-led project exploring the many layers of value that public land offers to its communities. The project aligns with the heart, elevates the expansive beauty of land, and honors the distinctive importance of natural areas.

Artist and storyteller Karen Kopacz combines drawing, writing, photography, and film to share her travel experiences and personal history, seeking to open hearts, cross barriers, and unearth important stories about the natural world.

The Journey

The Call to Nature and Its Ineffable Draw to Journey

At any age, no matter our ancestral origin, it is a right of passage to explore the mythological and historical grooves made by our predecessors across famous routes, roads, and trails. When we participate in the story of land, we evince the weaving of folklore, natural history, introspection, and spiritual vision. We road trip to discover, to retreat, to learn, unlearn, to become open, to bond, to find ourselves, to encounter something larger than us. It is ours to receive in the way that befits each of us. We are all part of it. How we engage with what we’ve inherited by the default of who our parents are, is perhaps the crux of the great confusion and responsibility we share.

It Begins In the Midwest

The purpose of this project is to raise awareness about environmental and human rights issues, while emphasizing the beauty of ecologically and geologically important places, many of which are environmentally at-risk. After creating a series of Midwest drawings, I was compelled to visit the places I’d drawn and planned two solo camping road trips, totaling over 5000 miles. A third trip brought the journey to nearly 8000 miles. In 2016, I traveled through every Midwest state to see these important natural places, some well-known, many of them obscure.

This quest to connect to nature became a pilgrimage in which I found myself in a bison stampede the morning I drove to Chimney Rock where my pioneer ancestors camped 156 years before. With my 2nd Great Grandmother’s journal in hand, I stood before that historic national monument, one mile south of Oregon Trail Road, pondering the land, all of its people, and the role we play in its stewardship or ruin. The next morning I drove the Sandhills Journey on Route 2, to visit the largest hand-planted forest in the US in Nebraska. In Kansas, at sunset, I looked across a golden glowing tallgrass prairie that once was as abundant as the bison, where now only 4% remains.

Stories like these, and others, can be found in an upcoming book. Prints available in 2019.

This project is not one thing. It is an ongoing journey to comprehend the past, the future, how we came to our present, and how we might dream a new dream to cultivate love and preservation.

— Karen

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