Piercing the Story Behind the Bountiful Harvest

By: Corporate Communications
September 10, 2018


Wider than a barge, weighing more than a car and featuring a mix of steel and copper, it’s hard to miss the Bountiful Harvest, a mural created in 1976 to tell the story of CF’s central role in feeding the world that is on display in the company’s Deerfield, Illinois, headquarters lobby. At 50-feet long, 8-feet tall and weighing 5000 lbs., it is so ambitious that the floors in the company’s previous headquarters in Long Grove, Illinois, had to be reinforced to carry this 2.5-ton weight according to retired Corporate Office Facilities Manager, Jim Friedmann.

Bird’s Eye View

Where did this mural come from?

As described in 1976 in the Scottsdale Daily Progress, in 1966, a young chemical engineer, Barney Baxter visited the studio of Allen Ditson and Lee Porzio-Ditson in Phoenix, AZ. Allen was a skilled steel and copper welder and Lee was a unique visual artist whose work fascinated Baxter. He told them, “If my ship ever comes in, I’ll give you a commission.”

A decade later, Baxter now the president of CF Industries, called the artists to ask them to create a mural similar to what he had seen on his first visit to their studio. He wanted to tell the story how every part of the CF operation was helping to increase world-wide food supplies.

The pair accepted the commission and immersed themselves in learning about CF products, technologies, services and people. Their journey was nationwide since "a pilot and a company plane were put at their disposal and they were flown over every facility of the entire corporation. From the potash and urea mines in Louisiana to Canada, to huge Midwestern fertilizer factories and Dakotan circular land plantings. After his tour, Allen Ditson remarked, 'Corn is king. Wheat is queen. And soy bean is Cinderella. Flying over the Mississippi delta, the land looked to us like a perfect batik (art design usually on fabric).'" (Wood, 1976, p. 29).

Out of this aerial inspiration, a pattern emerged. A mural was born called The Bountiful Harvest.

Circle of Life

Murals are presumed to be one of the oldest art forms, “from the cave paintings at Lascaux Grottoes in southern France to the street art murals of today. People … [create] murals to paint a picture of society, created from stories, values, dreams, change” (Kordic, 2015, p. 1).

The artists believed that CF Industries is the hub of the machine that feeds the world and thus gives life. From the smallest unit of organic life, the atom, to mechanical objects like combine wheels that conclude the growing cycle, the circle is a symbol of life that appears extensively throughout the work.

Just like a circle, there is no beginning or end to the mural. The artists intended for a constant tension and interplay between opposites in the mural:  science and nature, organic and inorganic, past and present, nature and technology, steel (hard alloy) and copper (soft element). Out of this tension, crops are grown and the world gets fed.

What is Traforato?

The artists invented a special technique to create the mural

called “Traforato” which means pierced in Italian. This is the method of cutting out shapes from the metal. A sheet of pure Arizona copper is then placed on the back of the steel stencil and pounded from behind with ‘old rawhide’ mallets.  From the front, the rounded soft copper offsets the rigidity of the steel, suggesting a union of steely technology and earthy agriculture (Wood, 1976, p. 30).

After flame painting the steel with special torches, Allen lifts the heavy panels in place with a small crane and welds them together to form the mural.

The 17 panels contain 10 different general themes with 110 specific symbols. It starts at the beginning millions of years ago with the natural formation of raw materials for fertilizers. Man develops technology to turn these natural resources into chemical fertilizers. Then fertilizers provide the hope that future generations will have the means to provide adequate food. CF’s past, present and future.

Seeing is believing. To get a taste of the Bountiful Harvest experience, take a visual tour here.