French Art, American Humor Flourish in Columbus, Ohio

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Michaelson

You'll find the original of George Seurat's famous post-impressionist painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte" at the Art Institute of Chicago. You'll also find a unique version in Columbus, Ohio - a rendition that's decidedly larger than life.

The famous painting has been re-created in topiary - sculpted evergreen shrubbery - a landscape of a painting of a landscape that's said to be the only topiary interpretation of a painting in existence.

The work consists of 50 topiary people, eight boats, three dogs, a monkey and a cat, as well as a real pond (substituting for the Seine) and real trees. The largest figure stands 12 feet tall.

The 45 topiaries began as 95 yews. In the pond you'll find eight cement planters with 52 more yews making up eight topiary boats with boaters. The sails are made from Sweet Autumn Clematis, which blooms white in late August and early September.

This living masterpiece - still a work in progress as young trees grow to fill out the top and background of the "painting" - can be found in a small park in downtown Columbus at the corner of East Town Street and Washington Avenue. For an artist's view of the work head for a hill at the easterly end of the park. Stand to the left of the bronze plaque on the stone slab in the path and you will be occupying the spot where Seurat might have perched to sketch the scene.

Another famous artist celebrated in Columbus is native son James Thurber, who attended Ohio State University (though he never completed his degree) and worked as reporter for the Columbus Dispatch before he went on to a long career at the New Yorker as a writer and cartoonist. To appreciate his work and his humor visit the Thurber House, a literary arts center in the restored home where Thurber lived with his parents, two brothers and several canine companions during his days as a college student.

The Thurber House is no stuffy, red-velvet-rope museum but a lively focal point for readers and writers of all ages. Volunteers delight in reading from Thurber's works and recalling anecdotes of the man whose writings and cartoons chronicled the war between the sexes. Visitors may pull up a golden oak chair in the dining room and sample Thurber for themselves.

The house, where Thurber lived between 1913 and 1917, is featured in many of his stories. As you enter give the front door a hefty push. According to "The Night the Ghost Got In," it was the police who "put their shoulders to our big heavy front door with its thick beveled glass and broke it in."

The house, built around 1873 in what was then a fashionable section of Columbus known as East Park Place, remains a well-preserved example of late 19th-century Victorian architecture built for a family of modest means. It contains a collection of Thurber memorabilia - his 32 books, some original drawings and manuscripts and family photographs, as well as his typewriter, briefcase, Tony award and many other curios.

Docent-guided tours include a reading and the house offers a writer-in-residence program, evenings with nationally known authors, literary picnics, and two exhibits a year of book-related art and original Thurber drawings.

You'll find the Thurber Country Bookstore in what was the family dining room. It features everything of James Thurber's currently in print as well as autographed books by guest authors and an array of unique gifts ranging from the Muggs (the dog that bit people) mugs and Thurber-dog erasers, to book bags and limited-edition prints. …