Jens Jensen Council Ring–A Memorial

It was a perfect Sunday afternoon.

A surprisingly large group of Elgin High School’s Class of 1959 gathered under a Shagbark Hickory tree at the edge of a savanna on the grounds of the high school.  They were there to dedicate a memorial to their class sponsor and former Biology teacher, Gus Stuart.

The memorial wasn’t, however, the typical bench one commonly sees as a memorial–it was a Council Ring, popularized by the Midwest’s most famous and beloved Landscape Architect, Jens Jensen.  A strong, colorful character, he practiced in the Chicago area from 1905 until 1951.

The council ring was a recurring architectural element in Jens Jensen’s designs.  A circular stone bench with a fire pit in the center, it was made with flagstone piers topped with large slabs of flagstone.  It could have a diameter of anywhere from 10-20’ or even larger.

The council ring was meant to inspire conversation, storytelling, drama, and singing around the campfire.  In Jensen’s words from Siftings, his only book, “In this friendly circle around the fire, man becomes himself.  Here there is no social caste.  All are on the same level, looking each other in the face.  A ring speaks of  friendship and strength and is one of the great symbols of mankind.”

He situated council rings within a woodland clearing with a view out toward a meadow–just as this one is situated.

 

council ring in savanna EHS

The edge of the clearing would be planted with native plants, grouped together in naturalistic designs–just as this is.

woodland edge council ring

The ring is made of boulders that surround an old stump.  The floor is covered with pea gravel.

council ring EHS enlargement

The Council Ring serves as an outdoor classroom, primarily for the environmental classes of Deb Perryman, the award-winning teacher of Environmental Science at the High School.  The old stump in the middle serves as a platform for teaching.  Teachers of other subjects have found it to be a wonderful classroom setting, as well, such as teaching literature or music.

Let’s hope this sets a trend.  Council rings will add to the ambiance of not only schools, but libraries, nature centers, parks, and back yards.

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5 Responses to Jens Jensen Council Ring–A Memorial

  1. Tim Lewis September 25, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    Excellent idea. Wild Ones put a council ring in the prairie at the WILD Center in Neenah, WI.

  2. Christa Orum-Keller September 25, 2015 at 7:39 pm #

    Pat

    Such a timely and nice message – I have just spent the day in Elkhorn Iowa at The Museum of Danish America with their landscape advisory board looking at how we can work to enhance their Jens Jensen prairie park – we spent part of the day meeting and discussing this in one of their several council rings…and on this very board we are blessed with the talents of the current Jens Jensen. I was delighted to find your book on sale in the gift shop at the museum! It is a lovely destination to visit. Thanks for featuring the Council Ring.

    Christa

    • PatHill September 25, 2015 at 10:09 pm #

      Yes, I remember them ordering the books from me. I would love to visit there.

  3. Suzanne Massion September 25, 2015 at 8:14 pm #

    I think Jens Jensen’s council ring and the legendary King Arthur’s round table tapped into a similar phenomenon. Arthurian knights of the round table faced each other as equals, in friendship, loyalty, and honor. This included the king, who sat with them. Thank you Sir Jens.

  4. Jason September 27, 2015 at 9:43 pm #

    The Council Rings really expressed Jensen’s vision of gardens being thoroughly integrated with community and democracy.

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