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 Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Sculpture In The Landscape

sculpture in the landscape

This month’s topic engaging the Garden Designers Roundtable-sculpture in the landscape.  Like any form of art, what constitutes sculpture is in the eye of the beholder.  An ancient tree, or a specimen espalier can be a sculpture.   An uprooted tree stump, a geode, sculpted soil seeded with grass-I am very democratic when it comes to what constitutes sculpture.  I truly believe that whatever a passionate gardener chooses to designate as garden sculpture is in fact garden sculpture.  The home any gardener makes for a sculpture speaks much to what that sculpture means to them.  This particularly imposing bronze sculpture of a bear perched on a beaver’s nest was purchased by a client who loved and appreciated it.  The sculpture asked for a landscape to go with.  Garden sculpture can be placed wherever, but it needs a home.  In this case, a waterfall and pond.  A waterfall backdrop comprised of tons of rock.  Lots of dwarf evergreens.  A raft of old and large tree stumps.  A stumpery was a perfect place, a home, for this this sculpture.  Sculpture in the landscape needs a carefully and generously designed place to be.

limestone garden sculptures

A landscape is a living sculpture.  A constantly changing, and evolving sculpture.  This sculpture was carved by a person from a natural material-stone.    This hand carved stone bust spent a good deal of the past umpteen years underground.  The process of bringing it back into the light? A simple placement on a steel pedestal.  In a garden.  Into an orderly and linear landscape.   This astonishing stone sculpture is all the better, presented with the butterburrs, and the boxwood.   The landscape company makes for a living experience.  Material.  Sculptor.  garden.  experience.  A good and on going experience.   

This contemporary sculpture involved regrading and grassing a steep slope.  At that steepest moment, we amassed a flock of rocks that held the slope.  The relationship of the concrete legs, the steel, and that congestion of  rocks-engaging.  Interesting.    

siting sculpture in the landscape

This classical sculpture is set back in a field of groundcover.  Garden sculpture can set the mood in a garden. A garden with atmosphere is a lovely garden indeed. A simple space provides breathing room.  The figure is integrated into the shade garden under the canopy of an old beech. 

garden sculpture

There is no need for a garden sculpture to be big, expensive, or otherwise imposing. The only requirement?  Great sculpture invites interaction.  Reaction. engagement.  This very small lead frog organizes a surrounding garden of considerable size.  All the color notwithstanding, this diminuitive sculpture organizes one’s experience of this garden.  A rich experience-memorable.   

garden sculpture

There are those containers that I would describe as sculptural.  A one of a kind expression.  Containers call for a planting that respects that.  The containers you choose for your garden-sculptures, each and every one of them.  This particular glazed terra cotta container-strikingly textural and of a beautiful color.  The blue succulents are similarly textured, but quite contrasting in color. Eaxch element is visually stronger, given the other.

siting garden sculpture

This cast iron dog, one of a pair of bloodhounds forged by Alfred Jacquemart in France in the 19th century, they guard my home.  They sit on simple concrete plinths.  Kept company by some old picea mucrunulatum, hellebores, hostas, and sweet woodriff, they are firmly planted in my landscape.  They have a home that seems natural and fitting to me.  No matter the weather or the season, they successfully engage me day after day.  How so?  They belong here. 

Contemporary sculpture asks for lots of space.  Contemporary sculpture to my eye is much about striking graphics.  Unusual forms.  A serious dialogue.  Astonishing materials.  Room to view, lots of room to appreciate-they ask for this.  The placement of this sculpture in the lawn permits physical as well as visual interaction.     

contemporary garden containers

These hand made concrete pots with snake detail are very sculptural. The planting?  Simple.  Contrasting in texture.  The care any gardener takes in the presentation and planting of a pot makes a statement about sculpture.  The care you take placing and siting a sculpture says much about what that sculpture means to you.  Anything in the garden that means much-fuss.

garden sculpture

This hand carved limestone gothic portrait, once a part of a wall, is unrelated in period and origin to the old half round plinth.  I placed one on top of the other.  My client split them up, via a mirrored wall.  Her instinct was to separate them, over the existing landscape.    Her placement took the appreciation of that sculpture to a level that was unexpected, and exciting.sculpture in the landscape

This sculpture involving urethane spheres studded with plastic grass is placed in an elaborately constructed 19th century French urn.  That placement- delightfully unexpected.  The attending modern containers with sculpturally styled plantings provide a lot of company to that nervy plastic expression.  I can imagine a lot of lively conversation over that sculpture.

garden sculpture

Placing sculpture in the landscape is all about providing a really good home.  A believable home.  A provocative home.  A caring home.  An unexpected home.  A visually challenging home.  No gardener places a sculpture in a landscape that does not mean much to them.  Should you be a gardener with a sculpture you wish to place in your landscape, be clear about what that sculpture means to you.  Make a meaningful and thoughtful place for it, in your landscape.  A clear and deliberate placement makes a strong statement.       

I invite you to read how other members of the Garden Designers Roundtable approach art and sculpture in the landscape.  They are a lively and articulate group of landscape designers.

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX



The Finish

I wrote about Buck’s steel fruits and vegetables the end of September.  They have since been filed smooth, and had a finish applied that will keep them from rusting.  He spent the day today building plywood crates so they can be shipped to Orillia, Canada, for a library/market square that is under construction. They will be ready to go in short order. 

I think they look great.  I am curious to see how how they will be integrated into the landscape. I think there is plenty here to work with.

Buck’s Fruits And Vegetables

A Canadian city north of Toronto is in the process of updating its library and landscape.  They have devoted some of their property to the development of a space suitable for a farmer’s market.  I suspect they are interested in the library being a community center of sorts, which will attract lots of visitors-for lots of reasons.  I like this idea.  I do think libraries are very important.  Books tell stories, and teach.  Libraries give anyone, everyone, access to books.  What is written or pictured in books is priceless-they are in a way the sum total of our knowledge and our art.  Farmer’s markets are another community icon-over the growing of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  Much of the fabric of a family is woven over shared meals.  This is the sum total of our community.  I place as much value on this as I do the works of Shakespeare.  The landscape architect commissioned four steel sculptures which will be placed in the new market area landscape.  He was intrigued by Buck’s strap steel spheres, and wanted sculptures in that manner to represent fruits and vegetables.        

I think Buck must have more clamps than any other artisan on the planet.  When he is welding steel straps to one another, every piece must be clamped into place before he fires up that torch.  Before the clamps came out, he did a series of drawing based on the architect’s specifications.  Once the drawings were approved, he printed the vertical steel ribs on a plotter exactly the size they would be in the finished sculpture.  These drawings were 20 times the size of what comes out of my printer.  The steel could be laid to the paper, and bent in the proper arc.        

The vertical ribs were bent in a 3-axis vertical roller.  The steel may appear slight in these pictures, but steel is very strong.  It cannot be bent evenly in a prescribed curve without a mechanical slip roller.  Each vertical rib was welded to a 24″ diameter steel base.  The sculptures will be installed over a light fixture which will illuminate the sculptures at night; this base will accomodate that light.    

The vertical ribs were bent to exactly match the curves indicated on the drawings.  The hroizontal ribs-now the fabrication gets very difficult.  The horizontal ribs needs to be rolled in circular shapes to start.  But in order for those ribs to lay flat on the vertical ribs, they needed a second rolling. A rolling that expresses the cant. You see how this lowest rib lays flat against the vertical rib-there were multiple steps getting the steel to perfectly mimic this shape.

This strap steel pumpkin is a low oval shape, without many clues as to its identity.  Strap steel does not lend itself to delicate gestures.  The curved stem is a signature. 

The raw steel shows all of the welds, and the streaks that come from high heat.  The stem is constructed from vineyard bar-steel embossed with the pattern of grape vines. All of the construction marks will disappear, once the piece gets its finish.  Sculpting in steel is exhausting work.  Buck came home plenty of nights to tell that this sculpture was just about to get the best of him.    Every moment is consumed with handled the weight and changing its shape with high heat and electricity.  This stem will make the identity of this sculpture easy.  

The apple is tall and gracefully curved.  I will confess it reminded me of a hot air balloon-until he attached the stem and leaf.  Poof-apple here. 

It interests me that these very abstract shapes got a representational identity boost with something so simple as a stem and a leaf.  This part of the sculptures was more about sculpting than recreating a paper based drawing in steel.   

This squash is almost 6 feet tall. Imposing, this.  No stem was called out.  I think it will hold its own just fine.   

The pear was the bear.  The shape is not in the least bit symmetrical.  At some point, I saw Buck and Dan throw their drawings away, and fabricate by instinct. Drawing this shape may be easy-making it takes a world of time and trouble. I am sympathetic.  There are times that I need to leave the landcape plan in the car, and just dance.   

Tomorrow these raw steel sculptures will enter the first phase of finishing.  I promise to post pictures of the final finish, before they are crated and shipped. This is a quick visual on the way to a finished sculpture.  Buck and his group turn out some very fine pieces-yes.