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Colorful tall ship sails the rolling green sea of a Wisconsin prairie

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She's visible from several miles out, this modern-day prairie schooner. Her red, yellow, and blue sails fill billow between the blue bowl of the October sky and the -undulating prairie.

The Prairie Schooner is the work of artist Naj Wikoff and the people of Mount Horeb. Mr. Wikoff, a native of Lake Placid, N.Y., explains why he designed the ship: ''It's the land. When I first saw the land out here I was impressed by the lack of trees, the infinitely rolling fields. When I learned that it had always been this way, that this was part of the great prairie, I could easily see how it had been described as a sea of grass. The Conestoga wagon was called the prairie schooner, and I could visualize the white canvas tops visible above the rolling sea of grass. It was such a beautiful image.

''Most of my art derives from folk art. I've always been attracted to the grace and sensitivity of 'Americana' art forms. The clipper ships, I've always felt, were a unique American art form. I wanted my ship to capture the essence of the excitement of the Tall Ships.

''Because I am a colorist I wanted to work in color to unite the sweep of green, rolling land with the blue of the sky. The sails are patterns of color so it's also color in space.''

Best of all, though, according to Wikoff, is the way the townspeople of Mount Horeb became involved in the project. ''I could not have done it without them.''

''We had what amounted to a huge quilting bee with 12 or 15 women working afternoons and evenings sewing the sails together.'' The local power company donated the eight 90-foot-high poles for the ship's masts, local manufacturing firms donated some of the hardware, and additional lumber came from the local lumber yard.

The townspeople approached Wikoff when the ship was under sail and asked if he had any material left over. He gave it to them and they made banners of streamers of red, yellow, dark, and blue to light the way for the tourists to the ship.


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