Michael Meilahn grew up on a corn and soybean farm near Oshkosh, Wis., and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 1966, intending to get a degree in agriculture.
But he cut through the college's art department on his way to class one day and his life changed.
Within six months, he had become an art major with an emphasis on blowing glass, a discipline that was just then being revived after becoming a lost art during the Industrial Revolution.
River Falls had one of the few glass departments in the country, and Meilahn took advantage of it.
He followed up his undergraduate degree with a master's from Illinois State University in Normal. Along the way, he studied in Germany and volunteered with the Peace Corps in Bolivia.
After college, he settled down on the family farm, but he never left the art world. Along with raising grain and a family, he has continued to create glass works in a studio he built on the farm.
ABOUT THE ART
Each ear is blown in the same mold, but because of the way it is finished, each is slightly different, just like ears in the field.
"There are 36,000 corn plants per acre and 600 kernels on the average ear, and each one is different," Meilahn says.
The appendages sticking out of the holes in his corn ears are intended to provoke thought, but they also are part of the aesthetic composition.
If the display consisted solely of ears - no matter how dazzling or colorful - "it would be pretty sterile," Meilahn says.
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When asked how long the ears take to make, his answer has become standard: "About an hour and 30 years."
He gets a lot of his ideas while driving a tractor back and forth across the fields, "in a zone."
"I might stop and do a sketch on the back of a bill, then stick it in a folder," he says.
Reaction to "Corn Zone" runs the gamut. Some people take it very seriously while others just laugh.
"That is the reaction you want," he says. "Not all people think the same. You know something is working" when there are different responses.
"Corn Zone" has appeared at the Figge before; it was part of the "Clear Your Mind: Contemporary Glass Invitational" during 2008 and was popular with patrons, said Dan McNeil, the Figge's director of development.
For more information about Meilahn and videos of his glass works, go to www.michaelmeilahn.com/