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What's Up Magazine

Art in The Garden

Apr 01, 2018 07:00AM
By Janice F. Booth

Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together,” said John Ruskin, 19th century, British essayist and art critic. Applying Ruskin’s definition, one’s garden could be fine art. And if you add a work of art to a beautiful garden?  Can one art form, the garden, enhance the other, a sculpture? 

While only a few, notable gardens display a Rodin figure or Calder mobile, our private gardens may host original works of art or become settings for whimsical fairy dancers or elegant marble goddesses. We might even install our own found sculptures. You might, for example, put together an intriguing sculpture from driftwood, bicycle tire rims, and glass.

Have you discovered the perfect piece of art for your garden or patio? Before you undertake its installation in your garden, you may want to visit a few of the more than 250 public sculpture gardens across the United States. Within an hour’s drive from Annapolis there are six public sculpture gardens in Maryland and three in the District of Columbia, including the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art, and the little-known Statues of the Liberators. Baltimore boasts the Levi and Wurtzburger Sculpture Gardens at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the little-known Bufano Sculpture Garden on the Johns Hopkins campus. And, in southern Maryland, the Annmarie Gardens at Solomons, displays a stunning selection of sculptures from the Smithsonian Institute’s collection. Close to home, you may want to wander through Quiet Waters Park or Adkins Arboretum, to admire the outdoor sculpture installations created by regional artists. 

Once you’ve browsed the professional installations, you may have a clearer plan for your own installation of a sculpture or two. Stephen Feeke, Curator at the New Art Centre in Leicester, England, advises, “…it [the sculpture] can be modest in scale and yet have a great impact…The key thing is to remember that sculpture of whatever era can’t just be bought and placed anywhere; it needs to be a resonant part of the landscape, and in all seasons, too.”  That sounds good, doesn’t it?  But, how do you make sure your sculpture—whether serious or whimsical—“resonates” in your garden?  You may find these five basic  guidelines helpful when installing a sculpture in your own garden.

First, can you find a local sculptor whose work you admire? Supporting local or regional artists encourages the artist and the entire art community. Visiting craft and art fairs may be fun, and may introduce you to an artist whose work you admire.

Second, consider your artwork’s size and composition or construction. Will this be a large piece in a small garden or a small piece in a large garden? You may want to elevate the sculpture to eye level. This will convey a sense of “presence” to the work of art and insure that shrubs and plants won’t overpower it.  If you should take precautions because of the sculpture’s construction, tuck it into a leafy grotto, beneath a mature trellis, or under a patio roof, limiting the art’s exposure to direct sunlight, heavy rain, or strong winds. This type of placement has the additional advantage of serving as a backdrop for the art, drawing the viewer’s attention to the sculpture and the details—a jewel in an emerald setting.

Third, whether your sculpture is classical or romantic, a Roman bust or Irish leprechaun, you may want to add a sense of whimsy or spontaneity to the installation. Choosing a site that invites the visitor to discover the sculpture or installing the work in an unexpected manner engages the viewer. The flowers and grasses you choose to accent the art can enhance the sense of wonder or other-worldliness. 

Fourth, you may want to play around with circulation.  I know that sounds a bit odd when we’re talking about a garden, but your garden’s design can enhance the viewer’s experience if the pathways expand and compress the visitor’s view. Even in a small garden, cleverly placed decorative grass or a tall rose bush might veil a pretty surprise, seen only when a turn is made. 

That sculpture might be just beyond view…until one makes that turn in the pathway and discovers the laughing gnome or glistening aluminum mobile.  Or, you may want to have a plan for moving the sculpture, perhaps seasonally, beside the birdbath in the winter and alone on
the green in summer. Again, providing a sense of whimsy. 

Finally, lighting the work of art should be considered. What sort of lighting will enhance the sculpture, and do you want to light parts of the garden at night? If you rely on daylight, will your sculpture’s placement receive enough light to enhance the three-dimensional nature of the work? Will the art be lighted in the morning or at sunset? Will it be directly in the sun? If you decide to use artificial lighting, how sophisticated will you want the lighting to be? A professional landscape architect or electrician can advise you as to a safe and appropriate light source for your sculpture. 

When you’ve considered all your options, you’ll no doubt choose what is most pleasing to you. Our gardens are personal expressions. Gardener and author Sherry Nothingam reminds us, “[Art] must complement the serene or even spectacular green canopy.”