Made By Hand


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Some time ago I wrote about a client who told me that no matter how beautiful his house might be on the inside, in the end, it is his cave.  I am quite sure he chose the word cave, as he feels his winter is tantamount to a forced hibernation.  Garden people have strong feelings like this-me included. I do make an effort to live through the winter, as best I can; more to follow on that. The upshot-I move to a diferent kind of making- as in small sculptures from natural materials. Some of these bits are left over from other projects.  The shells in this topiary were left from my shell tower construction.  The trunk sticks came from a spring centerpiece I no longer needed, but couldn’t quite throw away.  Some materials I buy specifically for interior arrangements for the home. I buy little pots all year long for these projects.  Who doesn’t have a small space somewhere that could be enlivened by a little dose of nature? A little dose of nature- hand conceived and built-this helps brighten my winter.

topiary sculptures 017Eucalyptus is not native or hardy in Michigan, but its sturdy broad leaves remind me of boxwood- super sized, that is. Eucaylptus takes well to being preserved; the lush and lively look pictured above will last a very long time.  The delicate cedar whip stems are arranged around a stout stick under a rubber band, and then glued.  The trunk has interesting texture, does it not?  Preserved reindeer moss covers the top of the clay pot.  The moss is set low enough such that the terra cotta pie crust edge can still be seen.  

topiary sculptures 007Making anything with one’s own hand is so satisfying. My friends Lauren, Buck, Marianna, Jane, Lynn, Julie and Janet-they cook.  Fred’s twice a year chili extravanza-he runs a marathon for a solid two days over it; I have been a lucky recipient.  Some sew, others compose.  Gerhardt has not only resumed, but embraced his interrupted calling as an artist, after 30 years directing an Art Academy.  At 70, he is just firing up.  What and how all of them make things energizes me. Myself-I love what these small sculptures teach me about scale, proportion, texture, color, line, mass; what I put together stays with me, when I have a garden project to design.   

topiary 009The hard wood of kiwi vine is extraordinarily beautiful.  No two lengths are ever the same.  Though I designed a number of these small sculptures with whitewashed eucalyptus and painted terra cotta pots, each one is different.  As I compare them, I see the importance of line in a composition. I see that a signature, an arrangement of lines,  is unique, and significant.  Where I might apply this in my work-who knows.  But I have seen this, and I will remember.

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This delicate preserved foliage is the devil to work with-just ask Pam.  But stuffed densely into a foam form, each individual wispy stem contributes to a mass and an overall form that engages the eye.  The black dogwood stems are loosely gathered up and glued in.  The lesson here- observing and working with the natural inclination of any natural material- makes for a graceful object.

topiary sculptures 025This lone silver plate candlestick I inherited-I do not remember why.  For years it has been on a shelf, looking at me.  The whitewashed eucalyptus unexpectedly looks good with this formal metal trunk.  Every material needs the right spot to shine.

topiary sculptures 006Rob will show up from a buying trip with pots in hand-these are actually densely fabricated paper mache.  A wispy and dense natural material seemed like it might make a good companion. Though my first choice would be for a topiary plant firmly rooted in the ground, in a landscape, I don’t mind this slight and skillfully made interior bound reference.  Making is much about doing justice to whatever greatly interests you.

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This deep purple is not a natural color in eucalyptus, but it does so celebrate the natural color of the black dogwood trunk.  Have I ever seen black twig dogwood before this past fall-no!  A first rate grower in Wisconsin sent me bunches of this dogwwod this past November.  Regularly I see things from the natural world I have never seen before- my surprise and enchantment may fuel the winter crop of topiaries.    

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This winter, Pam constructed each and every one of our topiary sculptures.  From my sketchy designs, she has created some very beautiful sculptures;  she has a sure and an inspired hand.  She is able to take an idea and confidently interpret from her own experience and eye.    I am sure you can tell she is a first rate gardener, on winter leave.