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Sculp­tures add stately el­e­gance — and sur­prise — to a gar­den

For me, a ca­sual vis­i­tor to this gar­den near Portsmouth, U.K., on a sunny day in 2005, it caused me to pause and to pon­der, just one of the rea­sons art­work is cre­ated.

Art­works in the form of stat­u­ary and sculp­tures have long been used to el­e­vate the some­times pro­saic na­ture of gar­dens. The an­cient Greeks and Ro­mans had their peri­style courts – en­closed gar­dens where clas­si­cal sculp­tures of he­roes and gods would be dis­played, typ­i­cally re­flect­ing philo­soph­i­cal or reli­gious mo­tifs and set on pedestals to be gazed at in awe.

Dur­ing the Ital­ian Re­nais­sance in the 14th cen­tury, when gar­dens be­came larger with a sym­met­ri­cal de­sign, there was al­ways clas­si­cal stat­u­ary. The Ital­ianate style found its way to Bri­tain, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the 19th cen­tury when trav­ellers re­turn­ing from a Grand Tour of Europe de­vel­oped their own Re­nais­sance gar­dens and filled them with stat­u­ary.

Travel to the great gar­dens of Bri­tain to­day, built long ago by the aris­toc­racy or early in­dus­tri­al­ists, and it’s soon ap­par­ent stat­u­ary was big busi­ness in the 18th and 19th cen­turies. Ma­te­ri­als had been tra­di­tional mar­ble, stone or bronze, but now all gar­den own­ers of note wanted to en­hance their es­tates. The need was met by the in­tro­duc­tion of com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als, though of­ten of in­fe­rior qual­ity — parts of Michelan­gelo’s David crum­bling away would be un­likely to in­spire or im­press any­one.

This was re­solved about 1770 when an en­ter­pris­ing busi­ness­woman named Eleanor Coade in­vented a unique ma­te­rial to be used for mould­ing neoclas­si­cal stat­ues and gar­den or­na­ments. It was of such high qual­ity it was vir­tu­ally im­per­vi­ous to the erod­ing ef­fect of weather. It out­per­formed nat­u­ral stone, but by the 1840s other ar­ti­fi­cial ma­te­ri­als us­ing Port­land ce­ment came on the mar­ket and the more ex­pen­sive Coade stone was largely phased out.

Lost over time, the orig­i­nal se­cret recipe, a form of ce­ramic us­ing crushed flint, fine quartz and crushed glass, was re­dis­cov­ered and fur­ther re­fined by sculp­tor and stone carver Stephen Pet­tifer. In 2000 he founded the Coade com­pany in Lon­don, Eng­land, which con­tin­ues to pro­duce all forms of stat­u­ary. These days what may ap­pear to be an orig­i­nal piece carved from stone could well be made from Coade stone.

By the start of the 20th cen­tury, the pop­u­lar­ity of clas­si­cal sculp­ture waned some­what with the ad­vent of mod­ern sculp­ture, be­gin­ning with the work of Au­guste Rodin, who ex­hib­ited at the Uni­ver­sal Ex­hi­bi­tion in Paris in 1900. Fol­low­ing this ex­plo­sion of imag­i­na­tion, ev­ery form of ab­stract artis­tic ex­pres­sion pro­duced in ev­ery pos­si­ble medium has ap­peared in gal­leries, pub­lic in­stal­la­tions and in gar­dens.

Just as the Greeks and Ro­mans cre­ated places to dis­play their sculp­tures, there are parks to­day cre­ated specif­i­cally to dis­play sculp­tural works. Some­how, the plac­ing of sculp­tures in a nat­u­ral set­ting en­hances the mo­ment and is a way of in­tro­duc­ing such works to the pub­lic.

Lo­cally, Cam­bridge has its lovely Sculp­ture Gar­den on Grand Av­enue South along­side the Grand River. At the Homer Wat­son Gallery in Kitch­ener, there are whim­si­cal works by lo­cal artist Glenn G. Smith on dis­play in the small gar­den there.

The Seat­tle-based blown-glass artist Dale Chi­huly ex­hibits his rev­o­lu­tion­ary work in gar­dens around the world with mul­ti­coloured pieces that can be mis­taken

for plants and trees of the nat­u­ral world. At Kew Gar­dens in Lon­don, his work was once ex­hib­ited both in the gar­dens and in­side the ma­jes­tic palm house be­cause, as he said, he al­ways wanted to show his glass­work in a glasshouse.

His pieces have also ap­peared at the Desert Botan­i­cal Gar­den in Phoenix, Ariz. On my visit, I could eas­ily have mis­taken his spiky, chartreus cac­tus for a rare saguaro if it hadn’t been sparkling so in the bright desert light.

I’d much rather wan­der a park or gar­den than a gallery or mu­seum, and it was in those large stately gar­dens of Bri­tain where I first kin­dled a love of sculp­ture.

Ren­ishaw Hall and Gar­dens in the north of Eng­land is typ­i­cal of the 19th-cen­tury style with its stun­ning Ital­ianate gar­dens. Stat­u­ary graces the path­ways, stairs, be­tween gar­den rooms and within them, where they stand in the shade of top­i­ary hedges five me­tres high. Some­times the top­i­ary works are sculp­tures in their own right.

In the south of Eng­land at Hever Cas­tle, the child­hood home of Anne Bo­leyn, the Amer­i­can mil­lion­aire and phi­lan­thropist Wil­liam Wal­dorf As­tor added a mag­nif­i­cent Ital­ian gar­den. Be­gin­ning in 1906, he filled it with a col­lec­tion of stat­u­ary from his Euro­pean trav­els.

More a park than a gar­den, the York­shire Sculp­ture Park was de­vel­oped specif­i­cally for the dis­play of sculp­ture, in­clud­ing a num­ber of Henry Moore pieces. Not sure how Moore would feel about sheep wan­der­ing around his art, al­though the park does hon­our his com­mit­ment to hav­ing his work placed in the open air.

It was in a more for­mal part of the park I dis­cov­ered the “Moon,” a piece I’d per­haps unfairly de­scribe as a large-scale ver­sion of a Vic­to­rian gaz­ing ball. Hand-blown glass gar­den ac­cents were first recorded as be­ing pro­duced in Venice in the 13th cen­tury. In the 16th cen­tury, the English philoso­pher Fran­cis Ba­con com­mented that a proper gar­den would have round coloured balls for

the sun to play upon, and by the Vic­to­rian era they be­came a pop­u­lar gar­den fea­ture and still are. They are in­trigu­ing, re­flect­ing and shim­mer­ing as the light changes, but I’m happy to gaze at them in some­one else’s gar­den.

The “Moon,” how­ever, by Swiss artist Not Vi­tal (a con­fus­ing name in English) is some­thing I’d covet if my gar­den were large enough to house it. “Moon” is a highly pol­ished sphere in stain­less steel re­plete with tidy, ran­dom dim­ples rep­re­sent­ing, I sup­pose, the more ragged craters of the moon.

Three me­tres in di­am­e­ter, it sits on an ex­panse of lawn, and like the real moon’s grav­i­ta­tional field, it draws view­ers to touch, to mar­vel and to ob­serve the dis­torted re­flec­tions of the tree-filled park. It now has its own Saturn-like ring, formed by the cir­cling foot­steps of a cap­ti­vated au­di­ence.

One of the finest, though fleet­ing, ex­hi­bi­tions of gar­den art can be found at the Chelsea Flower Show held in Lon­don, Eng­land, in May. Here de­sign­ers com­pete for gold medals in gar­den de­sign.

The gar­dens are imag­i­na­tive won­ders, works of art in their own right, and typ­i­cally con­tain sculp­tural pieces to com­ple­ment and en­hance the ex­pe­ri­ence.

At the 2016 show, a gar­den by Rus­sian de­signer Tatyana Goltsova ex­plored the com­plex re­la­tion­ships be­tween Rus­sia, Ukraine and the U.K., though not in the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sense.

A work by Ukrainian sculp­tor Vic­to­ria Chichi­nadze em­bod­ied the spirit of the tra­di­tional lace mak­ers of East­ern Europe and was al­lowed to beau­ti­fully dom­i­nate the gar­den. Crafted from 600 kg of alu­minum, the white, lace-like form, in sharp con­trast with the sur­round­ing green, swirled through the gar­den to skim the sur­face of a wa­ter fea­ture called “River of Time,” cul­mi­nat­ing at a tran­scen­dent fe­male fig­ure.

Also at the 2016 show, a gold medal­win­ning gar­den by Chris Beard­shaw promi­nently fea­tured a haunt­ing, con­tem­pla­tive face in verdi­gris bronze. Named the “the Fallen Deo­dar,” it was one of a lim­ited edi­tion of six by sculp­tor Jilly Sut­ton.

At 1.5 me­tres across, the orig­i­nal was carved from, and in­spired by, a massive Deo­dar tree (Ce­drus de­o­dara) that had fallen on bleak Dart­moor, not far from Sut­ton’s home in Devon. The orig­i­nal work now re­sides in a gar­den some­where in Tokyo, fit­tingly owned by one of the tree­leap­ing Ja­panese ac­tresses who ap­peared in the movie “Crouch­ing Tiger Hid­den Dragon.”

ABOVE: Bronze girl, at the Chelsea Flower Show in Lon­don. LEFT: Artist Dale Chi­huly de­picts plants and trees in blown glass.

The “Fallen Deo­dar” on dis­play at the Chelsea Flower Show in Lon­don.

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