LODI, Wis. — Like most of us Angie Treinen works best under a deadline.
A veterinarian by trade, she is also the artist behind the elaborate often-vexing designs that are cut into her 15-acre farm field. It's served since 2001 as the canvas for the Treinen Farm’s award-winning corn mazes.
But usually she doesn’t know what the design will be until her husband, Alan Treinen, plants the field in early June. At that point the clock starts ticking in earnest.
“Then I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ve got about 10 days,” she said.
She has that long before her husband needs to transfer the pattern to the field to start cutting the emerging corn before it grows too tall. Under the right conditions, Alan Treinen said, the corn can grow 6 inches each day.
The previous year she was pretty far down the road with a pattern involving wolves and Little Red Riding Hood. Instead she decided late in the process to illustrate the Rudyard Kipling tale of how the elephant received its trunk.
She could start drawing earlier, she said.
"(But) I know I would wreck it,” she said. “Having that deadline really helps me get it done."
This year for their 19th maze the Treinens have designed and cut a pair of dancing cranes surrounded by an Art Deco border. That presents endless possibilities for visitors to wander and become lost. Angie Treinen worked with the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo, Wisconsin, for help with the design. She also created interpretive stories to tell visitors about the sandhill and whooping cranes that call Wisconsin home for part of the year.
Working out of her office in a refurbished corn crib, Treinen creates a theme. She begins searching for images online and then starts sketching ideas. The final design is then transferred to a computer where it’s overlaid with a grid.
Then Alan Treinen begins the painstaking process of replicating the pattern on the ground. Including crews of young workers he employs, they lay out a grid. They then plant small flags wherever the lines of the design cross that grid. If it’s a curved line they’ll extrapolate an arc and mark the line on the ground with spray paint.
Treinen or a crew member will then cut the pattern with a mower. Once Angie Treinen’s confirmed the maze matches the plan, using a drone, the trails are roto-tilled to kill the corn.
“Everybody believes it’s cut with (global-positioning system), and it’s not,” Alan Treinen said.
That’s not the case everywhere. Increasingly farms are turning to companies that specialize in designing and cutting corn mazes using GPS systems.
“Nineteen years ago we looked into it and it was $8,000,” Treinen said. “But if I’ve got a good crew out there we can have it done in four or five days.”
The couple’s early mazes were blocky, with regular or repeating lines that hewed closely to the grid. But in 2008 the design was a swooping dragonfly surrounded by water lilies and interwoven Celtic knots. Since then the patterns have become far more intricate and free-flowing.
Angie Treinen began working mathematical concepts and more into the designs.
- fractals and irrational numbers
- scientific imagery from a famous DaVinci sketch
- carbon nanotubes
- images from mythology and fables
- natural history
All the mazes also contain a heavy dose of whimsy. One year the theme was rainbows, kittens and “killer baby unicorns."
This year’s maze, which opened Aug. 31, features two cranes.
“(The wings are) a squiggly, exuberant line that to me felt like flight,” Angie Treinen said.
One is holding a stone, which refers to the allegory of a watchful crane. If it falls asleep, it’s said, the stone will fall into the water; its splash will wake the flock. The other is holding a wild geranium, or cranesbill, whose seed pod resembles the bill of a crane.
Through time the designs became more about discovery, not just “solving” the maze. The first year there was just one solution. Visitors grew frustrated and made their own paths out of the corn.
Now there are multiple entries and exits. Visitors can stroll through the stalks for as long as they like. They can intensively try to solve the puzzle by following a partial map to a series of mailboxes. There additional partial maps can be collected and assembled. There’s also a series of “secret locations” where visitors can punch their maps for prizes.
“It’s not a situation where you’re going to get yourself into a dead end,” Treinen said.