The Clearing was founded in 1935 by Jens Jensen, a Danish-born landscape architect. Many consider him to be the most important American landscape architect and The Clearing his "great work."
Before founding The Clearing, Jensen achieved international recognition for designing many of Chicago's parks, along with the private estates of Armour, Florsheim, Henry and Edsel Ford and many other important Midwestern industrialists. He was a driving force in establishing the Illinois State Parks system and the system of Cook County Forest Preserves. He founded the Friends of Our Native Landscape, an organization that raised awareness about land conservation and advocated for the preservation of many important natural areas in the Midwest.
Jensen began acquiring the property that would become The Clearing in 1919 for use as a summer vacation home. Then, in 1935, at age 75, after retiring from his Chicago business, he achieved his longtime dream of establishing The Clearing. Foreseeing the effects of the automobile and the vast development of cities, Jensen founded The Clearing as a place where city people could renew their contact with the "soil" as a basis for life values. Today, many people come to The Clearing for this same sense of renewal and to be able to better manage the stresses and strains of everyday life in a complex and fast-paced world.
Jensen believed that environments have a profound effect on people and that an understanding of one's own regional ecology and culture is fundamental to all "clear" thinking. These precepts continue to guide the programs at The Clearing. Classes involve direct experience with nature, creative expression, thoughtful study and contemplation.
Mertha Fulkerson After Jensen's death in 1951, his long time associate, Mertha Fulkerson, sought financial support from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau to help continue to develop Jensen's ideas. For 35 years, the Farm Bureau, along with the Friends of The Clearing, provided support for The Clearing's continuing development. In 1988, the Friends of The Clearing, with the approval of the Farm Bureau, completed a successful fund raising campaign that allowed The Clearing to become an independent, non-profit corporation.
Today, The Clearing offers classes in natural sciences, fine arts, skilled crafts and humanities. These programs fulfill Jens Jensen's dream of a year-round folk school in a natural setting.