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.  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.

 

 

 

At A Glance: Recent Work

raised-steel-planter-boxes.jpgThis has been a very busy summer season for Branch.  To follow, pictures of a few of our early summer projects.  How pleased we are to have clients in our area.  And clients afar- northern Michigan, Chicago, Illinois, Texas, Connecticut, Florida, New York City, Long Island, California, Virginia, Louisiana, and Oregon.  This project in Grosse Pointe Michigan-raised planter boxes to be planted with cutting flowers.

Branch-Hudson-tapers.jpgmedium Hudson tapers

custyom-fountain-in-progress.jpgcustom fountain cistern under construction

Hudson-boxes.jpgHudson boxes

Drost-Landscaping.jpgBob Drost from Drost Landscaping in Petoskey.  He personally picked up 10 special order contemporary Branch boxes for a job last Sunday.

white-oak-and-steel-orangerie-boxes.jpgOak and steel orangerie boxes

elliptical-fountains.jpgA pair of elliptical fountains designed and fabricated for a landscape for a new house .

plant-stand-for-herbs.jpgLarge Branch plant stand for pots of herbs

custom-Hudson-fountain-cistern.jpgCustom sized Hudson style fountain with pump housing ready to be galvanized for a client in California

hemispherical-fountain.jpgUp side down hemispherical fountain, just about ready to be shipped to California

Hudson-boxes.jpgSteel Branch boxes and plant climbers-planted for the summer

large-Hudson-tapers.jpgLarge steel Hudson tapers ready to plant at a long lakeside country driveway

custom-curved-Hudson-planters.jpgHudson boxes custom made to fit a curve in a terrace

reproduction-Belgian-planters.jpgThese reproduction Belgian boxes in white oak and lead-we sent them to Florida a week ago.  Branch is busy.  Love that.

Delivering The Fountain

steel fountain

A client who had looked a long time for a fountain  fell hard for Buck’s contemporary steel creation.  I ws more than a little surprised, considering her more traditional taste in garden ornament.  But she was certain that this fountain was the perfect choice for her garden.  The job of transporting and setting it in place fell to Steve.  As you can see,  he was planning the move.      

Once he drained the fountain, he wrapped the fountain stem with heavy woven landscape straps.  As the fountain weighed in at about 400 pounds, and the site was not particularly friendly to the use of a front end loader, we would have to move the piece by hand.  12 hands, to be exact.  Each of three straps had a person at each end.  The straps would be a lot simpler to grasp that the smooth side of the bowl.  My crew can lift a lot, provided they are able to get a good grasp.

We excavates the soil from the spot where the fountain was to be placed, and filled it with coarse gravel.  A square concrete tile was placed over top.  This made it much easier to check to be sure the spot was level.  It is also much easier to adjust this tile to get it level, as opposed to the fountain.  It seemed like the fountain would be a good fit in this circle of boxwood-but we wouldn’t know for sure until we got it there.

The fountains we have manufactured at Branch of late come race ready.  The jet inside this fountain is attached to a steel plate, and comes with a valve that regulates the height of the jet.  Having a special event?  Open up the valve.  A tee fitting off the jet pipe is attached to the pump.  The cord for the pump comes through a hole in the base of the fountain.  The jet and pump assembly sits in the bottom of the fountain, making it easy to level the jet.  All the customer needs to supply is a source of electricity.

Getting the fountain through the gate was a challenge.  Luckily the gate itself was easy to lift off its hinges. Once the fountain base was resting on the second step up, the fountain would be flipped over on its side. The fountain has 4 eye hooks inside should the fountain ever have to be lifted.  It proved handy for tying the jet in place for the move.

There were but a few inches of room to spare, but that proved to be enough.  Luckily, any circular or hemispherical shape is not only very stable, but it is very strong.  This steel is relatively thin, considering how large an object it is, but there was no worry that the edge would be damaged.  At this point, we were rolling the fountain on its edge, rather than carrying it. I roll pots around the shop that I could never lift off the ground.

The last stage of the journey did involve lifting the fountain over a boxwood hedge.  My crew made it look like no big deal. 

They left me to fill the fountain-my pleasure, and my worry.  If the level were the least bit off, the water would tell that tale.  Water is always level-it’s people that get things crooked.  As I cannot abide a statue or pot that isn’t sitting level, I was willing to wait.   

I needn’t have worried.  It read perfectly level to my eye.  The wide rim of the fountain finishes the shape in a beautiful way, but it also masks any little bit it might be out of level.  The fountain was filled with water to just under that rim.  My client did very well with this-the fountain looks remarkably good in her garden. She had had an electrical box installed a long time ago, so an hour after our arrival, the fountain was running. 

The entire garden made more visual sense given a centerpiece.  The peach trees have a much more opulent and exotic look. I am standing on her porch, looking out.  The water seems to be at just the right height.  After trying the jet at a number of levels, she decided on this.  Just enough height to make for a great sound.

My client thinks it looks like I designed this fountain especially for her garden.  Since I would have never considered it for her, I realize that giving clients the chance to look without prejudice can result in an interesting outcome.   

 

What’s Buck Been Up To?

spun-steel-bowl.jpg

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I have a company, the Branch Studio, whose sole mission is to design and fabricate ornament for the garden.  It is a small company, but it produces some very beautiful pots, sculpture, pergolas-and fountains.  The opportunity for me to design garden ornament, and get it fabricated for specific projects adds a lot to my landscape design projects.   

contemporary steel fountain

Detroit Garden Works is a retail outlet for those garden objects that get made at Branch.  We make pots, sculpture, pergolas, plant tables, arbors-the list is long.  Buck, Salvadore, and Dan are responsible for the fabrication we do in steel, wood, and concrete.  Buck takes a sketch of mine, and creates an object.  A Saarinen scholar in architecture at Cranbrook in the 1970′s, and a previously practicing architect for 30 years means no project of mine daunts him.  Bowl shaped steel-really daunting.  He took to it without any protest.   

contemporary fountains

He has fabricated a pair of fountains similar to this one for a company in California that owns properties across the US-one went to Fort Worth Texas, the other will ship out to Florida in a few weeks.  Those steel bowl shapes enchanted me-could we not design a contemporary fountain that could be delivered, installed, and plugged in? 

In March, Buck was well on his way with this fountain.  He was sure he needed a new Miller tig welder-ok, Buck.  The details of his fabrication -ingenious, as usual.  The bowl sits on a pedestal of steel that can sit at grade, if there is a garden planned in concert.  That pedestal can be buried below grade, should a client with a contemporary landscape like to see the bowl sitting, appearing to float, just above the grade of a gravel or stone terrace. 

Though round steel is entirely stable and strong due to its shape, the steel in this fountain is thick.  We placed it at the shop with the help of a loader. Buck wanted to be sure that if a child chose to climb up the side, or an adult decided to sit on the edge, the bowl would not move, or tip.    

Four people and a machine were involved in placing it at the shop.  The process of setting a fountain level with the horizon is time consuming, and essential.  More than any element of nature, water is always perfectly level.  A vessel out of level-the water will describe that problem in clear and obvious detail. 

I could not have been more pleased about the look of this contemporary steel fountain.  It has lots of options for installation.  Buck plumbed it, and set a good sized pump in the bottom.  A valve controls the rate of the flow of water.  The electric cord comes out at ground level from the pedestal. 

contemporary fountains

Arrange for delivery.  Install at whatever height seems good, in whatever landscape that asks for a coolly contemporary fountain 60 inches in diameter.  Plug it in, or hardwire it.  Buck thought through all of the issues.  As usual, he did the lion’s share of the work.  He makes it really easy to commit.  This fountain brings a smile to my face every time I look at it.   How so?  He builds beautiful things.  

contemporary fountains
Buck and his group have been really busy-I need to catch everyone up.