The Four Rivers Fabric Art hangs in the center of the Great Room at Pere Marquette State Park Lodge. Consisting of 4 large hangings, the piece depicts the world of nature surrounding the Park and the Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio Rivers.
Celebrated artist and art professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, M. Joan Lintault, created the piece. She was selected to create a piece of art in a competition sponsored by the Illinois Art in Architecture Program. State Law requires that public art be put into every state building with 0.5% of each building’s construction cost be set aside to acquire the art.
Lintault was paid $20,000 for the piece. “I probably got about .50 cents an hour by the time I was finished,” she said with a smile. “I could have sewn something that didn’t take much time, but money isn’t the reason I did it.”
6,000 cotton leaves of every hue, with no two alike, are layered on fabric, invoking the image of leaves on the river bank or floating on the water. In addition, there are stuffed turtles, fish, birds, frogs, butterflies, snakes, dragonflies, and ticks to add dimension. Everything was hand cut, hand-dyed and hand-painted. Lintault used 358 yards of cotton, 135 yards of fusible fabric, 68 yards of nylon netting, 96 yards of hand died cheese cloth, lots of cotton cording and over 30,000 yards of thread.
Although the exact weight of each piece is unknown, when workers hung the piece in July of 1995, they needed a forklift, ropes and pulleys. Each panel is an 11ft by 18ft rectangle but when draped on its frame, it takes on a wing-like shape. Lintault has a story about that. “The funny thing was, part of Illinois history is the legend of the Piasa Bird.”
The legend of the Piasa Bird originated from the American Indian tribes of the area and spoke of a monstrous creature who would swoop into villages and make off with unlucky natives clutched in its talons. According to local lore, the massive, man eating bird was conquered when a courageous chief offered himself as a sacrifice. The Piasa Bird can still be found painted on the bluffs along the Great River Road today. “I wanted to include something about the Paisa Bird, but couldn’t figure out how I’d work it into the piece. The day it was hung, I was sitting in the Great Room. And when they were hung looked up and said, “My God, it looks like I wanted…Piasa Bird wings!” It wasn’t until I had seen them up, that I realized it.”
The St. Louis Post Dispatch