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.
When a landscape architect for the city of Sault Ste Marie called about a sculpture/fountain that he might install in a tiny new city park, I did not tell him that I had nothing for him. Who wants to talk to a client about what you cannot do for them? I am able to do things differently, as I have a very talented staff who are able to manage and fabricate all manner of custom work for clients. The fabrication studio shown above makes it possible to produce work in concrete, steel, wood and any combination thereof. I told him we would be happy to design and quote a fountain for his project.
The upper peninsula of Michigan, and the Sault in particular, is home to a substantial population of American bald eagles. They are proud of the fact that the eagle which symbolizes our entire nation thrives here, as well they should be. The bald eagle is as much a local treasure, as it is a national one. As any fountain placed on City property would be subject of discussion, design and review by committee, it seemed those firecely wild and independent birds would make a fitting subject for a sculpture, and appeal to a broad audience. We chose a subject matter we knew would strike a chord with a number of people. Given some drawings and dimensions of this object, a CAD drawing was produced enabling the project to be quoted. Nothing with cities proceeds quickly, but it does proceed; we were cleared to build.
This fourteen foot tall steel sculpture interpretive of a tree would cover a plumbing system designed to propel water out the topmost branch. Attached to that tree would be a network of steel twigs representing an eagle aerie. The galvanizing tank in which we hot dip galvanize all of our steel is only 5.5 feet wide; one branch of the tree would have to be mechanically installed after the contruction process was complete. The fountain was designed in the round for viewing, not designed to fit a tank.
A five ton bridge crane allowed us to lay the sculpture down on a trailer, and transport it to the galvanizer. It was a days work for for the tank operator to carefully suspend and dip this piece, and its wide branch, without incident. We stayed the entire length of the galvanizing process, so the piece would not have to be stored there; we trailored it home that night.
The hot dip galvanizing process covered every surface with a layer of zinc; this zinc would protect the steel from rust. The steel plate welded to the bottom of the sculpture would be bolted to a concrete foundation, ensuring that no wind or other bad weather could topple it; that plate accounted for 300 of the 2000 pounds of steel used in all.
Acid washing the galvanized steel changed the finish dramatically. What was silver is now a very dark streaky grey. We hooked up a hose once the finish was completed, to check that the plumbing would work; this moment gave Buck more than a little anxiety. If there were a problem with the plumbing, how could it be repaired? As he is a very thorough and thoughtful fabricator, the fountain passed its most important test.
Life-size bald eagles hand sculpted from a steel rod and mesh galvanized armature, and acid stained mortar, would be attached to the sculpture via steel sleeves made to match the size and angle of the legs.
Buck followed this semitruck on whose whose flatbed that sculpture was securely tied down-for 340 miles. The next day, he supervised the installation, driving home late in the day. The sculpture had been installed.
The landscape architect, John Rowe, had designed a pool which captured the fountain water underground, and recirculated it. The design of the pool was much more about native Michigan rock, than water. The clump of steel cattails provided sculptural interest closer to eye level. We kept the concrete sculptures high in the air; they can be seen from far away. The stone edge was wide enough to provide seating. The materials used are gritty, as befits this urban neighborhood. It does indeed look like it belongs there.
Deborah Silver is a landscape and garden designer whose firm, Deborah Silver and Co Inc, opened its doors in 1986. She opened Detroit Garden Works, a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants, in 1996. In 2004, she opened the Branch studio, a subsidiary of the landscape company which designs and manufactures garden ornament in a variety of media. Though her formal education is in English literature and biology, she worked as a fine artist in watercolor and pastel from 1972-1983. A job in a nursery, to help support herself as an artist in the early 80′s evolved into a career in landscape and garden design. Her landscape design and installation projects combine a thorough knowledge of horticulture with an artist’s eye for design. Her three companies provide a wide range of products and services to the serious gardener. She has been writing this journal style blog since April of 2009.