I have been a supporter of the Cranbrook Academy of Art for some years. They produce several events a year to raise money to support their programs. It is a unique institution among graduate art schools in the US, and a considerable asset to our community. I like being involved. We planted the annual garden surrounding the Orpheus fountain in May, in anticipation of their event to come in July. I took my cue for design and decor from the title of the event.
A large tent would be a temporary home to a collection of art destined for auction that evening. Each work was donated by a previous graduate of the academy; this part of the event generated considerable interest and participation. Tables reserved for groups representing the major benefactors for this event were placed in the fountain garden.
The remnants of puddles you see on the ground in the above picture bring back memories for me; it rained fiercely the afternoon of the event. What I had thought I would have the entire day to accomplish would have to be done in less time. The threat of bad weather makes any garden party all the more exciting to plan and produce-in this case, it was more excitement than I really wanted.
A cocktail reception would be held in a grassy area immediately adjacent to the showpiece of the Cranbrook landscape-the Triton pools. We fashioned simple tents for the hordoerves tables from double layers of white fabric attached to bamboo poles. Steel shoes for the poles were sunk in the ground at an outward angle, stretching the fabric tight and smooth. Nature had another idea in store; the intense downpour changed that flat profile to a graceful swoop. This unexpected contribution from the sky was a good one; I liked the swooping fabric against the curving path. We had painted a rambling path for guests arriving at the Lone Pine entrance to the garden to the reception area, with athletic paint.
The big gesture? I had the idea to affix paper lanterns to slender steel rods anchored with bricks which would sit on the on the pool bottom. Advance measurements of the water depth enabled us to create the impression that the lanterns were floating on the surface of the water. What fun it was to get in these fountains; I never expected this opportunity to come along. A crew of four of us spent the better part of the afternoon wading in the water.
We set up hundred of lanterns of different diameters. Each steel rod had a platform at the top holding a votive candle. As we set the lanterns, we lit the votives rated to burn for ten hours, and hoped no more rain or wind would come our way. I was equally concerned that no water from the pools wick its way onto the paper. I was interested in creating a little moonlight magic, not a wet paper mess.
It seemed the rain had cleared off, and we did finish with an hour to spare before guests were due to arrive. The reception would begin at the very far end of the pools, and guests would wind their way uphill.
I was happy to have finished my part as the catering staff was setting up. I was on my way home to get dressed; I did not want to miss how all of this would look at night.
Attending an event gives you the chance to experience it as other people do. There is plenty to be learned from this-what proves awkward, what is not visually strong enough when a space is full of people, what proves to be good that you never gave a moment’s thought to. Any party in a garden will surprise you.
I made it back just in time to see the garden begin to fill with people. Little did I realize what the night would add to this party-more on that tomorrow.