The Eagles


Some years ago I ran across an extraordinary pair of hand wrought and cast iron armatures resembling birds. I must have come back and looked at them 4 times, before I approached the dealer. He told me he believed they had been eagles, gracing a building in Paris. He went so far as to tell me they had been on the Palais Royale, but had no proof of that provenance. They were obviously very old; the iron was deeply pitted from exposure to the weather and environment. The heads were long gone, as were most of the wought iron feathers.  One patch of feathers, one piece of feathers long detached, and the hand wrought iron legs and talons gave a small indication of what they might been in their prime.  

But the most striking of all that remained were their massive iron armatures.  An armature is the underpinning over which a sculpture is created.  The armature provides strength and support-a framework upon which to build the final piece.  These old armatures-visually arresting.  Emotionally arresting.  I kept coming back. Buck encouraged me to speak for them.      


I visited them many times over the course of 3 days.  Buying them could not be undertaken lightly.  It would require a considerable investment.  No doubt they were like nothing I had ever seen.  In the end, I gave in and bought them, as they were like nothing I had ever felt.  It is entirely possible that I would not have responded as strongly to the sculptures in their prime as strongly as I did to the aged and deteriorated version.  They had a very powerful presence, though I could see through them.  With almost every shred of ornament stripped or worn away, they were still incredibly beautiful.  There was ample evidence of the hand of the artist.  They were of imposing scale.  I never tired of looking at them.   

I did at one point have a client with a serious interest.  Buck made a pair of painted plywood pedestals, so we could display them in the air.  She decided against them.  I had not a worry in the world about this.  I had fallen for them hard.  I liked having them around, every day.  They might be the most beautiful garden ornament it has ever been my pleasure to own.  This is my personal opinion.  People respond to art in very different, and very individual ways.  I could never buy art for a client, nor would I ask someone to buy art for me.  I cannot really explain why this ghostly pair of birds wrapped their talons around my heart-but they did. 

Why this story now?  A designer from New York, who looked at them at the same show where I bought them years ago, called last week to inquire if I still owned them.  He had a client with a garden whom he thought would appreciate them.  I was surprised that he had taken note of where they had gone.  He responded much like I would have.  There are those garden ornaments that make an indelible impression.  He had not forgotten them.   

His client decided to purchase them from me.  Several days ago Steve and his crew loaded them into our box truck for a trip to Branch.  Buck will crate them for shipping to a garden in St. Louis.  I was surprised at how very reluctant I was to let them go.  More than once I thought about bringing them home, but my garden is not right for a pair of sculptures such as these.   Yet I could have lived with them all of my life, and been challenged, intrigued, engaged, and awed every time I looked at them.  This is what art does for people.   


I have had other perfect moments with art.  Some of those pieces I own, and look at every day.  I could say these remains of a pair of eagles are everything I ever wanted in a garden sculpture.  But in fact they are a creation of the hand of an unknown artist from better than 200 years ago that I will have a hard time living without.

I am a dealer in  garden antiques.  This means I am committed to offering my clients the best there is, given my best judgment and experience.  But I will admit there are those days when I wish I were just a private collector.  Lacking that, I would wish that I had a certain client, and a certain project that would have asked for this pair.  Lacking that, it has been my pleasure to own them for a while.  This is enough, albeit barely enough.   I feel quite sure they are going to an extraordinary garden.  Godspeed, beloved birds.

At A Glance: December 16, 7am

Steve and I both get here before daylight, so we can talk about the work for the day. This morning was no exception. That red coat of his looked great.  I was out photographing our holiday decor, now that everything is finished.  Rob is a little tired of me telling him how much I am enjoying this, but you may not be able to drop by before 7am, or after 6pm.   These pictures provide a taste of how it looks.  

The lights at night provide wholly different visual experience than the daytime view.  It will be a good while before I tire of coming to work to this.







Howard and Milo are barely visible in the doorway-I feel quite sure they like this time of year too.


The Hats

The last of the holiday celebration in front of the shop had to do with what Rob calls the hats over the windows.  They actually seem more like eyebrows to me.  Last year we hung burlap drapes over them.  Given our dead meadow weeds holiday theme, I thought a weedy hat might add a certain finish to the project.  They took just about forever to make.  Glueing one weed at a time takes time. After finishing the first, I spent two weeks vacillating about whether to abandon this part altogether.  It sat on a table in the back since before Thanksgiving, enduring many rainy and some snowy days.  The matted mess miraculously regained its volumetric shape, once it dried out, but really it was Jenny that persuaded me to keep going.  After they were wired onto the metal hats, I was glad I persisted.  

I added the metal rectangles and shutters to the windows many years ago.  Factory windows do not come with much in the way of architectural interest.  They warm up this old machine shop considerably.  I wired most of the dry elegant feather grass from the roof to three large bamboo poles.  I glued everything into that dried grass I could get my hands on-kitchen sink style. 

Dry anemones and hydrangeas from my yard, dry chicory, boltonia, Queen Anne’s Lace, thistle seed heads-and a whole lot more dry plant stems I cannot identify became part of these three eyebrows.  I have no idea how long all of this will last-I have never done anything like it before.  Sticks, and dry perennial plant stems-that is all there is to this.

I am happy to have something warm and reminiscent of the garden to look at, in December. 


Shop Light, Shop Bright

Today was one of my most favorite days of the gardening year.  I never know what day that will be-that is part of the excitement of the event.  What event?  My crews get most of the last of the landscaping work, and the winter and holiday pots finished.  One moment later, they swarm the shop, intent on getting our holiday and winter display out front up and running.  The 6 pots in front of the shop have had their centerpieces of pussy willow since before Thanksgiving.  I have had lots of time to think over a plan for the holidays.  Time has not particularly helped me this year-Icould not figure out what I wanted to do.   But I knew I needed lights-and lots of them. So why not just get started with that?

The winter is a tough season for any northern born and passionate gardener.  How I might survive the months of the grey freeze is of great interest to me.  I would much rather create a hospitable place where I can live, than wring my hands, and spread discontent. Each of my 6 pots got their own nest of lights.  We twist and zip tie 4 or 5 strands of lights of different sizes, and colors.  White, red and lime is this year’s scheme.  This is not an entirely simple thing-we plan the spacing so each 45 foot garland has lights equally dispersed along its length. 

This giant wreath based on many stems of huck-I have owned it at least 8 years.  Dusty,wobbly and in need of some some restoration work,  I got it out of storage a few weeks ago; it would be perfect for this year’s field and weed holiday theme.   I added many more twigs;  I reglued every stem all around.  Most of what existed from some 8 years ago was sound.  The staying power of weeds is well known to every gardener.  Rob  is, and has been the driving force behind this year’s holiday.  His trips into the fields to collect dead branches and weeds have made for a season with focus, purpose, and structure.  This weedy wreath would be perfect.        

A big part of the window box display in front of the shop-the dried remains of asparagus.  The cultivation of asparagus-I have read lots about this.  But only from Rob have I learned about the dry stems of asparagus-how their wiry skeletal branches might play a part in the winter season. The dead stems are amazingly persistent.

Once I get my act together on a plan, my crews make quick work of it.  The window boxes got green, and had a bed of c-9 and c-7 lights installed in the center.  Lucio was in charge of sticking the asparagus branches between the light string wires. 

Bamboo stakes at the corners of the pots form an armature around which to wind the lights. 

This gold and green sinamay does several things.  It provides a soft transition between the geometrically placed willow stems, and the hard structure that is the light nest.  The shimmery polyester threads will amplify the light coming from the garlands.   

Multiple pots with lots of lights draws a lot of power; the shop has 2 20 amp circuits specifically installed for holiday lighting. 

We have enough lights in the pots to create a daytime glow.  Michigan is well known for its cloudy winter days-this day is no exception.

Dusk arrives 4:30 in the afternoon this time of year; we have an answer to that. 

If you have not put lights outside for the holiday and winter yet, one light garland draped in the branches of the tree will do you, and your neighbors, a world of good.

Some holiday lighting asks for a well placed spotlight.  Lots of lights can throw unlighted decor deep into shadow.  Our wreath would not be visible at night, save for a pair of spotlights. 

The window boxes now provide warm companionship to Rob’s pot o fire at the end of the driveway.  Only one more detail remains to be done-can you spot what or where it will be it is?    

Do try this at home.  It will warm you up.