Remembrance and celebration
Ellen Kort was Wisconsin’s first Poet Laureate, as named by Governor Tommy Thompson in 2000. As a lifelong resident of Appleton, Wis., she wrote poems about events and places near to her—a portfolio that contains 11 books and eight collections of poetry. After Ellen’s passing in 2015, family and friends gathered to start visualizing the creation of an open green space in her remembrance. Inspiration drawn from the poet’s “Wisconsin Quilts,” “Letters from McCarty’s Farm,” “The Sacred Grove,” “The Art of Labor,” “The Fox Heritage” and others was incorporated into the design of the Ellen Kort Peace Park to pay homage to her life’s work and love of nature.
What makes the composition of Ellen Kort Peace Park unique are the spaces created by the interwoven shapes of the walkways, topography, gardens and features. The City, along with family and friends, wished to have a park that honored Ellen’s legacy as an interactive, peaceful experience—not as a static memorial. Many of her poems and writings are expressed in design throughout the park, speaking to the landscape of Fox Valley, Native American history, the local paper industry and the art of quilting. Ellen favored circular forms, inspired by her interest in the local Native American culture. These forms are found throughout the park in walkway design and earthen mounds—not replicas, but artful rounded lawn formations to encourage visitors to stop and read, relax or reflect. Other elements include the Poet’s Garden—a contemplative space for viewing the river and bluffs, the Quilt Gardens—a more formal landscape for enjoying the most active area of the park, the Trailhead Building—with a glass box classroom and the Peace Ring—a space for gathering and storytelling.