Tag Archives: sculpture

The Gibberd Garden

June 6th, 2016 | 8 Comments »

 

Sir Frederick Gibberd was an English architect, landscape designer and town planner. His design for Harlow New Town, generally regarded as the most successful of Britain’s post-WWII developments, is his greatest achievement. His garden is his most personal.

Located in Essex on the outskirts of the town he designed, the garden is little known and little visited, despite being called by BBC Gardeners’ World one of the most important post-war gardens in the country.

 

A bust of Gibberd by Gerda Rubinstein site is viewed comfortably through a house window.
A bust of Gibberd by Gerda Rubinstein is viewed comfortably through a window of the house.

 

The garden is a highly individual creation. Full of modernist and avant-garde sculpture, art objects and architectural salvage, it is theatre as much as garden, with moods that swing from dramatic to comic, sentimental to cerebral. Rather oddly for an architect, Gibberd designed his garden without a master plan, instead placing the sculptures according to the way they felt in the space.

Undoubtedly the most dramatic feature is the scene created from columns salvaged from the old Coutts Bank on the Strand in London, which Gibberd redesigned. When I came upon the columns, I gasped. Despite knowing they were there, the effect was startlingly effective.

 

Corinthian Columns are topped by stylized acanthus leaves. A nice touch: the real thing is growing at the base of the columns.
Corinthian Columns are topped by stylized acanthus leaves. Planting the real thing at the base of the columns is a nice touch.

 

The garden as a whole has a melancholy air. It feels well-loved but slightly decrepit, like a stage set that has been used for more performances than anyone can remember. The atmosphere reminded me of other theatrical 18th century gardens — Rousham, for instance, or Castle Howard, albeit on a much smaller scale.

 

The urns also came from Coutts Bank.
The urns also came from the façade of the Coutts Bank in London.

 

But even at its most theatrical and melancholic, touches of humour are there to be found.

 

A terracotta bust is the centrepiece of a quirky grotto.
A terracotta bust of Queen Victoria is the centrepiece of a quirky grotto. The backdrop is formed from bottles inserted into cement. Seeing it made me wonder if the pensive matron was still  mourning the death of Prince Albert.

 

The lightest touch is at the far end of the garden, where Gibberd built a moated castle, complete with drawbridge, for his grandchildren.  Nearby a wide-seated swing dangles on long ropes from the branches of a tree, hinting at romantic encounters with girls as careless and hedonistic as any painted by Fragonard.

 

A moated castle -- a perfect playground for Gibberd's grandchildren.
No flag was flying over the castle the day I visited, and the drawbridge wasn’t working. Still, a moated castle makes as perfect a playground now as it did for Gibberd’s grandchildren.

 

Some garden features were in place when Gibberd purchased the property in 1955. These include the formal pool and pavilion near the house …

 

The garden is maintained primarily by volunteers which gives it a comfortable lived-in feeling.
The garden is maintained primarily by volunteers which gives it a comfortable lived-in feeling. I’d like the pool better if some of the plants were removed.

 

and a strikingly dramatic line of lime trees.

Seen from a distance, the opening into the lime walk appears strangely mysterious, like an opening into the underworld.
Seen from a distance, the opening into the lime walk appears mysterious, like an opening into the underworld.

 

Less successful in my mind is the narrow bit of lawn that takes visitors to the house. The geometry that characterized the period remains, and while it is softened by sculptures arranged like actors, this stage set feels crowded, without a central star.

 

The sculpture in this area includes a Mother and Child by Gerda Rubinstein.
The sculpture in this area includes a Mother and Child by Gerda Rubinstein. The square blocky piece in the foreground is Interlock, by Paul Mount. On the right is a stainless steel piece by Antanas Brazdys.

 

The garden is divided into spaces most easily described as rooms. But they aren’t the type of rooms found at Hidcote or Sissighurst, where spaces are separated one from another by tall hedges. At the Gibberd Garden, the rooms flow and interact to create spaces that feel very different while still remaining part of an integrated whole.

Gibberd considered himself an intuitive gardener. If something worked, fine; if it didn’t, he ripped it out and tried something else. He placed sculptures more deliberately. Near the house they are arranged in clusters.

 

The arrangement of the pots on a terrace is particularly good.
The arrangement of the pots on a terrace is particularly effective, providing structure without being strictly geometric.

 

As you move away from the house, they are placed farther apart, with sight lines that offer multiple views.

 

This leaning lady is surrounded by bamboo.
This leading lady is surrounded by a bamboo grove that directs the eye as strongly as any spotlight.

 

Some of the best actors in the garden are the trees. They are magnificent, whether they tower over a rustic piece of art …

 

The piece is made of wood the same colour as the tree trunks.
The wooden totems mirror the colour of the tree trunks. They are by Robert Koenig.

 

or stand alone …

 

A warty apple tree takes its mark on a section of open lawn.
A warty apple tree stands on its mark on a section of open lawn.

 

or provide a welcome touch of colour.

 

Laburnum trees dwarf the real actors, busy taking photos of the trees.
Laburnum trees dwarf the real actors, busy taking photos of the trees.

 

The garden runs downhill to a brook that was muddy when I saw it, the result of heavy rains that fell the night before. Even so, it was another highly romantic scene, and one I was able to admire at length thanks to a well-placed bench.

 

The down-at-heels atmosphere was strongest in this part of the garden.
The down-at-heels atmosphere was strongest in this part of the garden.

 

Some years ago, a lawsuit threatened the future of the garden. Thanks to an appeal launched by Hugh Johnson and a successful application to the National Lottery, the garden’s future is now secure. The house and garden are Grade II listed and the house is open to the public. Restored as far as possible, the rooms are filled with much of the original 1960s Scandinavian furniture. The art that once hung on the walls, made by Gibberd’s friends and contemporaries like Henry Moore, Paul Nash, John Piper and Elizabeth Frink, is long gone, auctioned to pay the costs incurred by the lawsuit, but the presence of the designer lingers like stale pipe smoke.

 

 

A photo of Sir Frederick shows him standing next to the formal pool near the house. He was called Freddy as a child, He doesn't look like a Freddy to me -- much too debonair.
A photo of Sir Frederick shows him standing next to the formal pool near the house. He was called Freddy as a child but he doesn’t look like a Freddy to me — he seems much too debonair.

 

The house and garden are open on a regular basis. Both are well worth a visit.

Tree Rings

December 6th, 2015 | 14 Comments »
Tree Rings, my most recent sculpture, was installed at Glen Villa a few weeks ago. Making this sculpture has been more challenging technically and mentally than I anticipated. Certainly it has taken longer than I thought it would. The project began in September 2014 when the top of an old maple tree blew off during a heavy wind storm. [caption id="attachment_3144" align="aligncenter" width="1500"] The tree stood between the house and the garage, the flat-roofed building seen behind the tree.[/caption] Luckily, the tree fell away from the house, causing no damage and leaving

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Ann Norton Sculpture Garden: a garden review

February 17th, 2014 | 8 Comments »
Combining sculpture and a collection of rare palms, the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden offers a quiet retreat from the up-scale social whirl of Palm Beach, Florida. Palm Beach, after all, was (and in some cases still is) home or vacation playground for many of the world's rich and famous, from the Kennedy and Pulitzer families, to Donald Trump, Bernie Madoff and Conrad Black. Ann Norton was a sculptor who married one of these wealthy men, Ralph Norton, an industrialist and an art collector whose collection became the foundation of Palm

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Glen Villa in Autumn

October 14th, 2013 | 6 Comments »
Travelling is wonderful, but nothing beats being at Glen Villa on a perfect autumn day, when the air is clear, the sky is blue and nothing in particular has to be done.This morning I walked around the garden, my first walk-about in three weeks. A few flowers are still blooming, like the never-say-die sedum 'Autumn Joy.'Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is still going strong in mid-October.The bergenia I planted this spring to complement the aqueduct is showing its full fall colour.Which name do you prefer, bergenia or pigsqueak?The peegee hydrangea that was

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The Guggenheim Bilbao: more than a Puppy

October 6th, 2013 | 4 Comments »
Jeff Koons is not my favourite artist. In fact, I don't really like his work. But I do like his Puppy. And I loved the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, inside and out.Koons' Puppy is suitably festive outside Frank Gehry's trademark gay curves.In the plaza next to the museum, towering over pedestrians, Koons' highland terrier is a patchwork of colours so bright that it lifts the spirits on a cloudy day. And lifts the corners of the mouths of everyone passing by, as well.A slightly different angle confirms it: this Puppy is BIG.I saw

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In Transit / En Route: Part Three, the final installment

March 19th, 2013 | No Comments »
Several weeks ago I started a three-part series about an art installation at Glen Villa called In Transit / en Route. I posted the first two parts and intended to post the third in week three. But California and all I saw there captured my attention and my blogging time. So the third part of In Transit / en Route went to the bottom of the pile. Finally, though, it is back at the top. So here it is, the third and final installment. If you want to read (or re-read) the

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In Transit / En Route: part 2

February 20th, 2013 | No Comments »
The In Transit / En Route trail starts at the edge of a field. with a sign that asks a rather odd question. Where are you? Où êtes-vous? As I wrote in my previous post (In Transit / En Route: the beginning), the words aren't easy to read. The letters are small and the words run together with no breaks. Once someone figures out the question, though, it usually makes them laugh. They make a joke, another person responds, and they laugh as they come up with different answers to this question that

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In Transit / En Route: the beginning

February 13th, 2013 | No Comments »
In my post last week I mentioned In Transit / En Route and showed a photo of a clearing in the woods. Here's the photo again.                          In Transit/En Route: the sundial clearing in the woods   Do you see the red sign in the clearing? It is part of In Transit, or En Route in French, an installation I created in 2011. In Transit / En Route is not an installation you can see at a single glance. You have to take time to walk a trail that stretches about a kilometre through the woods. And you have to

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Art in the Woods

February 6th, 2013 | 1 Comment »
People respond differently to the woods that are a big part of the landscape at Glen Villa It's hard to miss the difference. Some hike through the forest intent on getting someplace, noticing very little.  Others spy things I’ve never seen. The art installations I'm creating throughout the property generate widely different reactions. For some people, the installations are intrusive. Some find them intriguing, some are left indifferent. Only occasionally does someone responds strongly and immediately, finding the signs, words and thoughts as meaningful as I do. In Transit/En Route: the

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