When the New Orleans Botanical Garden hosts its Fall Garden Festival today and tomorrow, the program will feature a wide array of intriguing attractions. Displays by vendors, educational sessions and the botanical garden itself will provide ample interest for both beginner and experienced gardeners.
But the Southern Shade Garden will feature something brand new to the festival: An installation of garden-compatible works by local artists, intended to inspire gardeners to think beyond the plant palette when designing their home landscapes.
Dubbed “The Good eARTh Experience (Part 1)” by its organizer, Wendy Laker, the installation includes works by eight local artists, all of whom have created art that relates to the verdant setting of the shade garden.
“It’s a beautiful space with a winding path under oak trees,” Laker said. “We have wanted to do something like this for years, and Paul (Soniat, the garden director) and I finally got together on it. The goal is to keep the artworks in place for a period of time, just as they would be in a traditional indoor gallery setting, and to host opening receptions whenever we change them out.”
Laker, an artist herself, was a founder of the Mid City Art Market, which eventually morphed into the popular Palmer Park market operated by the Arts Council of New Orleans. She plans to install her metal “free-range fencing,” along with works by Linda Berman (clay), Peggy Bishop (clay), Jane Brewster (paint on wood), Darrin Butler (multi-media), Hernan Caro (metal), Michael Eddy (concrete and glass), Arden Stewart (glass) and Charles Trapolin (metal).
Metal sculptor Caro, a native of Cartagena, Colombia, said he was inspired by the majesty of the shade garden’s giant oaks to create four abstract steel sculptures measuring 7 to 8 feet tall.
“They are three-dimensional, so depending on where you stand to look at them, the perspective changes,” Caro said. “In my work, the negative spaces are as important as the positive spaces.”
The aspect of the shade garden that appeals most to Caro is the nature of its path, flanked on either side by a variety of ferns, plus hydrangeas, aspidistra and other shade-loving plants.
“The path is not straight — it curves and winds out of respect for the trees that were there before it was built,” he said. “Instead of it being just a way to get from one place to another, it is for contemplative walking. It isn’t fast. It’s slow.”
Another of the artists installing work in the shade garden, Jane Brewster, appreciates the tranquility of the space and the almost monochromatic backdrop it provides for displaying the colorful shutters she paints.
“The images painted on the shutters change depending on the position of the louvers,” said Brewster, who is also one of the artists transforming utility boxes into contextual works of art through the New Orleans Street Gallery Project of Community Visions Unlimited.
Subject matter on the shutters she paints can range from scenes of nature, to New Orleans streetscapes, to popular local artists.
“One is a heron; when you move the louvers, the heron takes flight,” Brewster said. “Another is a gator who opens its mouth when the louvers change positions.”
But her favorite may be the set she painted to honor music icon Fats Domino.
“Fats rocks from side to side at his piano when you move the louvers up and down,” she said.
Anyone who travels Moss Street along the banks of Bayou St. John has already encountered works by a third participating artist, ceramicist Peggy Bishop, who dresses up ordinary street signs and recasts them as ceramic totems. Although she has been working in ceramics for 13 years, the idea for the totems came about somewhat by accident.
“One of the first things one learns to throw on the pottery wheel is a cylinder. I was throwing lots and lots of cylinders to practice and didn’t know what to do with them when it occurred to me to stack them on the ‘No Parking’ signs (along) the bayou,” Bishop explained. “From there, I decided it would be fun to really decorate, with fish, etc., and my totems were born.”
For the shade garden installation, Bishop built three totems in graduated sizes, ranging from four feet to six feet tall. One is a tree trunk with colorful birds perched on it. But two more are a bit of a departure from her norm: One is in shades of blue, the other solid white.
“The blue one is all matte (finish). Half the pieces on the white one are shiny and half are matte,” Bishop explained. “I thought these pieces would be a serene look for the shade garden.”