The Past Looms Large

November 27th, 2018 | 12 Comments »

For the last eighteen months or more I’ve been working on an art installation that stretches along a 3-4 km trail at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec.  The trail moves in and out of fields and forests, and each environment has its own character.

When I started the project, the idea behind it wasn’t entirely clear. Gradually, working with the land and listening to its story, the project took shape. Time — how we think about it, experience it and represent it — was a thread connecting each installation. So several months ago the project acquired a name: Timelines.

The Past Looms Large is a section of Timelines that I hope will raise questions in the mind of anyone walking the trail.  It begins with a short corrugated tin column positioned near a tall dead pine and a stump whose shape makes me think of a person drowning, with neck stretched up to the sky and mouth wide open, gasping for breath.


The dead pine and the tree stump were part of the inspiration for this section.
The tall dead pine and the tree stump were part of the inspiration for this section of Timelines.


Applied to the base of the column are letters that not only give the name of this section but also prepare a walker for what is coming next.


The red letters contrast with the grey cement and continue a colour that appears throughout the project.
I’ve used red along the Timelines trail as a unifying element. I I like the contrast here between the red letters and the grey concrete.


Looking out from the top of a rise, walkers will see a field crossed by a mown path with tall columns on either side.


The columns are striking in every season.
The columns definitely loom large. I took this photo early one morning in late summer, as the grasses in the field were beginning to change colour.


As they approach the columns, walkers are able to read the words on the bases: first Doric, then Ionic.


Doric and Ionic name types of Greek columns.
The words Doric and Ionic name two of the orders of Greek columns. The style of the capitals, the tops of the columns, are what differentiates one order from another. These columns do not have capitals, and never will.


Anyone who studied art history will know what word to expect next: Corinthian, the name of the third type of Greek column. But we aren’t in ancient Greece, we are in today’s world, where the past is an unreliable guide to the future.


The first column breaks expectation.
I used corrugated tin because it suggested the fluting that often appeared on Greek columns. .


Not far in the distance, a fifth column rises above an over-sized Adirondack chair whose dimensions illustrate again how large the past still looms.


Adirondack chairs are iconic symbols of summer in the northeastern part of North America.
Adirondack chairs are iconic symbols of summer in the northeastern part of North America. Fifth columns suggest more subversive possibilities.


The chair, designed by the Quebec landscape architectural firm Nip Paysage, marks a turning point. The path has climbed gently across the open field; now it begins to descend towards a backdrop of tall dark trees.


The path leads through what appears to be a natural opening between pairs of trees.
The path leads through an opening between maple trees towards an ancient apple tree. Two wooden stakes mark the location of the element we are working on now.


The next section of Timelines is unfinished, thanks to snow that came much earlier than usual — in terms of climate, the past is increasingly unreliable as a guide to the future.  Many months ago I determined that the final element in this section would be the façade of a Greek temple.  The trail would go through an opening between columns, as if the walker were entering an actual temple, but the façade would stand alone. I sketched possibilities, talked to architects and designers.

Using the internet as a guide, my friend and collaborator John Hay found the image of a temple that suited our purposes. He superimposed the image onto a photo of the chosen site.


John searched the internet and found an image of a temple that suited our purposes.
Neither John nor I remember where this particular temple was located. Nor does it really matter. We liked the proportions and the fact that it was partially ruined.


The image served as our guide. Should we have four full columns or should we include a broken one? How tall should the columns be? And finally, how could we construct the thing in the simplest way?

John made a model to scale and late in October we set to work with the help of Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, without whom almost nothing at Glen Villa could be done.


John held the model in place while I took the photo.
The fifth column, located beside the Adirondack chair and shown in the model at the far right, gives a sense of scale and perspective. John didn’t add the chair.


The temple façade is like a billboard, a false front with construction details fully revealed.


Upright posts form a framework for the temple façade.
We put up scaffolding and the upright posts that will form the framework of the façade on a cold and sunny day.


By early November things were beginning to take shape. First two columns appeared …


The horizontal bar is only temporary, holding the posts in place during construction.
The horizontal bar that runs behind the corrugated tin is a temporary but necessary element, holding the upright posts in place during construction.


… then four.


The pediment is still to be added.
Scaffolding is still in the way, but the façade is getting closer to its final form.


It was very cold the day we added the broken pediment and the dentils underneath. We tied the pieces in place temporarily — the clamps that will hold them securely had not arrived.


The black I-beams will weather over the winter. In the spring we'll probably paint them silver.
This is not the final version of the façade but close to it.


And then the snow fell.

Over the winter the upright posts will begin to rust and the black I-beams will weather, softening the harshness of their lines. In the spring we’ll make whatever changes seem right.

But for now the work is done.




Monuments and Memorials

November 20th, 2018 | 6 Comments »
This statue on Richmond's Monument Avenue shows Robert E. Lee astride his horse Traveller.
Paintings on rock made by indigenous people many years ago give us insights into their daily life and the events and objects they valued. (I wrote about rock paintings here.) Monuments and memorials serve a similar purpose. So what do they show about what we value today? Traditionally monuments were erected to great men and generals who led us in war, and to those who fought and died. I grew up surrounded by this type of memorial. The statues of Confederate leaders that lined Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia left no doubt about


Rock Art

November 12th, 2018 | 18 Comments »
Australia Kimberley 2011-82
Cave paintings on the island of Borneo showing animals and human hands have recently been dated back some 40,000 years, making them the oldest known example of figurative rock art in the world. (Details of the story can be found in various articles, including one here from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.) Think for a moment about how long ago that is. Forty thousand years. It takes my breath away. I've been fascinated by rock art for many years and have been fortunate to see examples in South Africa, Namibia, Australia, Chile and Peru. While the particulars


Strange Times

October 30th, 2018 | 11 Comments »
stonehead (1 of 1)
We are living in strange times. Walking through the woods yesterday, I came across an odd scene. A creature made of stone was rising up from the leaves. First came a head, shoulders and arms....     then a leg. First one leg ...     then another.     The legs stretched out longer and longer.       I admit it, I ran. And as I left, I heard a crash.     I ran faster and faster, only to find myself in the place I'd been before. And there was


Autumn Colour

October 16th, 2018 | 12 Comments »
Maple trees gleam in the sunlight.
Autumn is spectacular in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Unfortunately I've had little time to enjoy it this year, because earlier this month we sold our condominium in Montreal where we've lived for the last 22 years. Cleaning and sorting and disposing of the contents has taken a lot of time and effort. In fact, it's been a real slog but thankfully I've had lots of help from family members. (Thank you, each and all!) Understandably, blogging has taken a back seat to household work. But this past weekend, I took a


Garden Hits and Misses

September 30th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
The fountain rises 70 feet into the air. On a sunny day it is beautiful to see. It works via a remote control!
At home after three marvellous weeks visiting gardens (and  friends) in England, I find much to criticize in my garden. After many years of travelling, I've come to expect this -- and to accept that a garden in Quebec's harsh weather conditions will never resemble an English garden, with its lush foliage and flowers, topiary and ancient walls. I've also come to expect that gardens other than my own will disappoint me. On every tour I've hosted, there has always been one garden I particularly looked forward to seeing. On


Garden Centres and Garden Reviews

September 24th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
Gardening in Canada can be frustrating. The range of plants available through nurseries or garden centres is minuscule compared with the number available in England. And seeing so many wonderful cultivars that won't survive in my Quebec garden makes me envious of England's more temperate climate. Still, for anyone who loves plants, a visit to a garden centre is always a treat. The group I was hosting on my final garden tour spent a few happy hours wandering around the Burford Garden Company, an Oxfordshire-based enterprise. At this time of year


Oudolf at Pensthorpe

September 16th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
Over the last half dozen years or so,  I've visited several gardens in England designed by the Dutch plantsman, Piet Oudolf. These include Bury Court in Hampshire, Scampston Hall's Walled Garden in Yorkshire and Hauser & Wirth in Somerset. Because I've seen and enjoyed these gardens, I was eager to see Oudolf's Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe Natural Park in Norfolk. (A review of Scampston Hall's Walled Garden is here.) Pensthorpe was Oudolf's first commission in the U.K. Planted in 2000 and up-dated in 2008, the Millennium Garden is part of a larger natural reserve.


Petworth: a Landscape by Capability Brown

September 9th, 2018 | 18 Comments »
On a sunny day, what could be more agreeable than strolling through a landscape designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown? Earlier this week, two friends and I took advantage of the fine weather to do just this when we visited Petworth House in Sussex. The landscape there is one of the finest surviving examples of Brown's work. Walking through the 700-acre park, the surroundings appear to be totally natural, but in reality Brown shaped each part of the land with his customary flair.   [caption id="attachment_6709" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] This view from the


Ends and Beginnings

September 3rd, 2018 | 6 Comments »
Spirea japonica 'Crispa'
I head to England today, where I'll be hosting my final garden tour. I'm sad about this ending, but at the same time, I'm happy to remember the people and places that have formed such a rewarding part of my life. And as I keep reminding myself, ends are also beginning. Before leaving for England, I took a walk around  the garden at Glen Villa to see what's in bloom and to assess what needs to be done when I return. Generally, things are looking pretty good.   [caption id="attachment_6668" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] The deer