The Branch Fountain

pin cushion 003Winter at the Branch Studio is a gritty affair. The building is too large and drafty to heat to any decent level.  Everyone over there lives in their insulated carhardts, boots and leather gloves-amongst a whole host of other gear.  The wind makes the doors rattle like crazy.  Enter if you dare.  There is nothing romantic about manufacturing, but there is a special beauty in the making that goes on over there. A group of men who take extraordinary care in their fabrication. Beyond the din, dirt and sparks of a fleet of welders in use, there is a collective heart beating strong.  These guys weld cold rolled and pickled steel.  It is not an occupation for the faint of heart.  Steel bends for no man.  That said, my group at Branch works hard to make steel friendly to the landscape.

February 11, 2014 (4) Containers, fountains and garden ornament made at Branch comes straight out of the manufacturing heritage every bred in Detroit fabricator is heir to.  This means garden ornament designed and fabricated to last.  Boxes and fountains that can withstand anything nature decides to dish out. Everything at Branch is hand made, and rock solid.  The finish we have developed is a patina much like lead.  The stainless steel Branch tags that are attached to everything we make identifies our work, and attests to its longevity.  The Branch Studio is the youngest of my companies-just 11 years old this year.  The work however speaks to a maturity of which I am proud.

Branch fountain 3The winter is the time we make all of our stock boxes, fountains and pergolas, in anticipation of the spring season. But we also take time to design and fabricate new things.  I have been after Buck to fabricate a fountain of a design very different than our usual classically based garden ornament for at least 2 years.  He was slow to cotton to the idea, but in January I could talk of nothing else.  He finally heard me.  A Branch fountain got off the ground.

fountain feetThis fountain is comprised of almost a mile of steel rods, and weighs 3500 pounds.  On the outside, the fountain measures 5′ wide by 9′ long.  The bottom of the fountain was built as a torsion box, the weight was so great.  Buck held more than a few confabs with his group regarding visual density and texture.  The design called for a certain density, that would be satisfied differently, depending on the diameter of the rods. The texture needed to be congested, but loose.  A good friend remarked upon seeing the finished fountain that she was intrigued that a material so hard and heavy could be made to look so soft.

February 24, 2014 (12)Once the shell of this fountain was built, my conversation centered on the magic that that can be created by the human hand. Every hand is distinctive, like a signature.  I was after a group signature.  A show of hands.  Everyone welding on this project changed positions every hour.  No matter what view you take, the look is about community of hands-homogeneous.

February 24, 2014 (15)The texture is created from 8 sizes of steel rods, from 3/16 inch, up to 3/4 inch.  The length, size, and placement of each individual rod was a decision that had to be made, hour after hour, and week after week.   This was their first outing without a fistful of CAD drawings and clear specifications. We were building a fountain yes, but we decided to broach the topic of sculpture.

galvanized fountain 11Stepping outside any routine is about taking chances.  Taking a chance can be more than one bargained for.  But a result that is more than one bargains for is well worth the effort.  My welding group at Branch stepped right up to the challenge posed by this design, and dove in.  Their collective signature is all over this fountain.

DSC_8780The signature of every artisan at Branch is represented in this fountain.  I can read the moves, and I can see the names.

Branch fountain aThe act of creating is a thrill like no other.  A painting.  A quilt.  A symphony.  A poem.  A dress.  An event.  A car.  A necklace. A company.   A garden.  Branch of course is  interested to be a sculptural part of the landscape.

Branch fountain cThe Branch fountain is a sculpture around which a garden could be forged.

Branch fountain bThis is the news from the Branch Studio.

 

 

 

The Dogs At Chase Tower

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My company Detroit Garden Works is in the garden ornament business.  We buy and sell ornament for the garden – new, vintage, and antique and repurposed, from sources in the US and Europe. What is a garden ornament?  Any object deliberately placed in a landscape or garden.  This definition would include pergolas, sundials, sculptures, bird feeders, benches, trellises, staddle stones, topiary forms, grapevine or stone spheres.  Fountains and water features.  Found objects, fencing, topiary plants.  Espaliered trees, arbors, and stone cisterns.  Tables and chairs.  Rain water collection barrels and boot scrapers.   Containers are garden ornament.  They may be handmade Italian terra cotta, or galvanized buckets.  They may be old apple or tulip crates.  They may be contemporary Belgian stoneware, or cast stone versions of classical garden urns.  They may be lead, or steel containers from Branch.  They may be concrete, or wood, or cast iron.

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A garden ornament may be as modest as a gazing globe on a steel stand, or as elaborate as a waterfall and pond.  No matter the subject or scale, a garden ornament makes a statement about the taste and interests of gardener in charge.  The inclination to ornament or decorate a space is natural.  People decorate their houses with objects that help to create that atmosphere which feels like home.  How a home is furnished says something about the taste, values and priorities of the person who lives there.  There may be objects treasured for their history.  One person might decorate their place with art, and that art could be sculpture, or paintings, or quilts or hand painted china.  Buck collects vintage doll heads, typewriters, scientific instruments, and accordions.  His personal spaces are just like him, as they reflect who he is, and how he sees things.

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A landscape or garden is no different.  A garden endowed with ornament says something very personal about the garden maker. An ornament can infuse a landscape with an atmosphere of history, mystery, or whimsy.  There are no end of gardens where roses are growing.  But the garden that has roses growing in profusion over a picket fence has a much different feeling than the garden that features roses trained as single ball topiaries, planted in orangerie boxes. A 19th century cast iron bench is not just a place to sit.  It is an expression of an aesthetic much different than what is created by 3 rough hewn slabs of granite assembled as a bench.

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So why this discussion of decoration?  Once the plants in the garden shed their leaves and go dormant, a landscape with no ornament can be bleak place indeed.  I am thinking about this, as we have just begun our winter and holiday decorating.  Topiary forms, arbors, and pergolas will get lights wound around them.  Doorways will be festooned with garland.  Containers will get winter coats and hats.  Wreaths will be decorated, and hung on the front door. Lights in every shape and color will be hung from the eaves, or stuffed into the pots.  A bench will get a cushion of fresh greens.  The trees will be hung with grapevine and light garlands.  A Japanese maple decorated with glass drops will glitter all winter long.  A sundial will get a wreath boa.

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As for the dogs at Chase Tower, they have a carpet of greens.  The dogs look like they have just paraded through a stand of yellow twig dogwood, their leashes trailing behind them.  They have topknots and collars that are one part holiday, and 2 parts winter.  Is this really what was in my mind when we decorated these pots?  Yes.  Decorating that tells a story will have an impact.  There is an amusing and charming story being told that will make the winter a little easier to bear.

winter-dog-detail.jpgSee what I mean?

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I do see the decorating outdoors for the holiday and winter as a form of gardening.  A trowel or garden spade is useless this time of year.  The sight of them on the shelf, dusty rather than dirty, is irritating.  On the other hand, a pair of pruners and a spool of good garden twine might be all the tools you need to decorate the garden for winter.

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Woof!

 

The Morning News At Branch

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bon-voyage.jpgbon voyage.

At A Glance: The Details

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The pictures of the details of the construction of these massive pergolas is not just for our records.  We will send a complete set of pictures to the contractor who will be charged with assembling the structures once they get to Florida.  Though I have described this Branch project yesterday with few pictures and few words, the actual length of time and the attention to detail has been serious and long.  At the risk of boring you beyond all belief, these pictures help to better tell the whole story.
welding-the-lattice.jpgwelded lattice

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barn-raising.jpgraising the barn

assembly.jpgpanels in place

assembly.jpgNote the 2 by 4′s between the vertical panels.  Great care was taken to square up the four posts before the roof would be dropped on.

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Big enough to house a forklift

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finishing the roof

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steel-cradle-for-delivery.jpgOnce both pergolas were finished, cradle structures needed to be built for the roof structures.  They are too wide to lay flat.  The maximum width of a flatbed truck is 8.5 feet.  We are over the legal transport dimension limit.  Not a problem.  Terry, Michael, Sal, Dave, Enrique, Owen, Scott, Steve, Geri, Dan, Max, and Buck worked together to bring a big idea for the landscape to life.  Start to finish.  Am I happy with the result?  Truly?  Yes.