J. Brownlee Davidson, a founder of agricultural engineering and organizer of the first professional agricultural engineering curriculum at Iowa State University would know what the individuals in Davidson’s Dream are doing, although they are accomplishing their tasks in a way that can only be described as peculiar or fantastical. This is not to say the tasks at hand in the mural are in any way unimportant, in fact they are more urgent now than ever before. With millions more people on the earth to feed than when Dr. Davidson was teaching, our natural resources are more precious than ever. In the 21 st Century the challenge is to produce sufficient amounts of food in a system that also protects the environment and the economic health of the rural economy.
This original mural by Rebecca Ekstrand and Thomas Rosborough highlights the individual aspects within agricultural research and the preservation of the rolling, fertile Iowa land. These goals are reflected in the mural. The key component in merging education, conservation, production systems, research, and industry is PEOPLE. It is the passion, knowledge, and work of the faculty and students at ISU that drives the essential advancement in agricultural technology and management.
This mural tells the story of agricultural engineering in an allegorical narrative that shows individuals doing exceptional things in extraordinary ways. It shows the interconnection of the landscape, crops, waterways, livestock and structures, balanced by interdisciplinary teams of people in agriculture and biosystems engineering. The pastoral composition as a whole, with its lack of restraint, stylized spaces, and eccentric images parallels the college’s unrestrained, remarkable response to challenges now and in the future.
Each figure in the mural represents an important aspect of a vision for serving agriculture and society. The woman on the lower left is trying to manage and conserve the essential, but sometimes uncontrollable, resource of water and soil, directing it for use in crop production. The central female figure is a teacher, who represents research and development that draws lessons learned from the past (Davidson) and imparts wisdom. Bending down is a student who, leaning forward with his magic touch, produces, a variety of crops represented by timothy, alfalfa, switch grass, and is backed up by a stand of the corn that pierces the clouds. To the right of those crops in whirls of dust a powerful man is laboring in a field, turning the earth. He is the machinery of the rural landscape working in unison with UAV technology buzzing about his head, to help utilize the soil, plant and harvest with precision while farm safety is always on his mind. Around him are unturned fields showing the remnants of last year’s crops and the suggested patterns of tractors treads. To the left of center a man oversees the livestock production of pigs and chickens showing pride and concern for the health and welfare of the animals.
Throughout the landscape there are references to the ag-engineering system. Wind turbines producing renewable energy, and groupings of grain bins store the bounty produced by a rural community. These bins represent the small communities that support farming and food production and are the center of the partnership between country and city.
The golden light of dawn permeates the vast diverse landscape, illuminating the proud past of agriculture and suggesting the bright possibilities for growth, discovery, and beneficial approaches to agriculture in the future. It is our hope that the mural honors the agricultural engineers of Iowa State University and their vision of service to people and society.
Photos from the mural installation. The mural can be viewed in 1306 Elings Hall, Davidson Conference Room.