Eugene Weekly : Gardening : 5.8.08

Right Art/Right Place
NW artists offer advice fo installing art in your garden

This year you could decide to plant your first piece of garden art. Or perhaps you’ll continue to grow your collection. But where to put it? Whether you’re buying an artful birdfeeder or investing in a massive sculpture, placement can sometimes present a conundrum. Here are some tips from Northwest artists who will be gathering to display their work at the May 10 Oregon Plant Fair 2008 in Alton Baker Park.

Yeah, But Is It Art? Good placement starts with consideration of the piece itself. Widen your definition of what constitutes art, says Julie Fiedler, owner of Tilebiz, a source for hand-painted tiles and ceramic sculptures. “You can get away with art pieces that are a little more quirky or unusual than you might display in your house,” Fiedler says, “because nature provides a context for the work.” Something odd or mundane that would seem out of place in your living room becomes completely charming or takes on an exciting new look when surrounded by leaves and blossoms.

Size Matters. “Remember scale when placing art in your garden,” advises Cathy Turley. She designs whimsical fused glass beads that hang from metal supports in her Native Glass Studio in Albany. “A smaller art piece might not be noticed if placed next to a large tree or bush.” Why spend time and money only to have your treasures disappear in the foliage?

On the other hand, a piece can be too dominant. Jerry Buskirk from Cottage Grove, who fabricates metal sculptures and garden gates, says, “Too large a piece in a small yard with no greenery tends to look institutional.”

Ryan Beard, of One Sun Metalwork, agrees. Beard also creates big garden sculptures, many of which are water features. Too often, he points out, art is installed in a garden because the owner likes the piece but, Beard says, “It doesn’t necessarily fit the space.”

So be prepared to move a piece of art around until you find the perfect spot. With a large sculpture, you’d better have a crew or understanding friends who will help with the hauling. Plan ahead and talk to artists about placement. They have opinions based on years of experience and observations. Buskirk offers this tip: “Personal pieces look better in a cloistered setting and contemporary pieces sometimes look better against the open sky.”

Indoor/Outdoor Destinations. The relationship between the house and the garden is often overlooked when placing art. Consider using a piece as a focal point where it can be seen and enjoyed from inside the house. That’s garden furniture maker Vanca Lumsden’s advice. Lumsden, owner of Albe Rustics on Whidbey Island, Wash., fashions fanciful tables, chairs and benches from all kinds of wood, including curly willow. She notes, “It’s important in the winter to have something interesting and/or colorful to treat your eyes when looking out a window.” She also likes to see art positioned in such a way that it draws you out to the garden to investigate. “It gives you a reason to walk down a certain path,” she says, “and to enjoy the garden while you are in motion.”

Surprising Places. Surprise is another element that Lumsden favors. Surprise allows you to interact with the garden. “I like art sited in unusual attitudes,” she says. For instance, she appreciates seeing the back of a statue when you first meet it, so you must circle around to get the full impact.

You can also add surprise by situating art higher, or lower, than where it would usually be expected. 9th Street Gallery artist Katy Adamson devises cheerful fused glass dinner plate-sized flowers and brightly colored glass bugs. These are perfect for this kind of placement. She says that art pieces can “create a fun surprise on a tree trunk, a fence, a rock, or the edge of a planter.” Unusual placement encourages visitors to look up or stoop down. The experience of your garden varies, depending on the angle of viewing.

Art for All. Whether you’ve been collecting for years or this is the season when you’ll make your first foray, every garden deserves a piece of art. As ceramic artist Julie Fiedler notes, “Art can become an unexpected and surprisngly beautiful addition to a garden setting — a secret year-round bloom that rewards the close observer.”

Mary-Kate Mackey teaches, writes and gardens in Eugene. See more on our website on the garden artists who will be at the Oregon Plant Fair.


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