Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Where Art Has Taken Root

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Where Art Has Taken Root

Article excerpt

Columbus, Ohio. Home of the Ohio State Buckeyes, James Thurber, and Jack Nicklaus. No ocean to speak of, but a life-size riverfront replica of the Santa Maria. A massive trails initiative, riverfront project, and golf courses galore. And, of course, the Topiary Garden at Deaf School Park.

Topiary. Sculptures of living shrubbery. An art form that's been around for ages. Edward Scissorhands gave it a bit of recognition. The Topiary Garden at Deaf School Park does it one better.

The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department's topiary garden encompasses more than 50 individual sculptures and brings to life the neoimpressionist landscape painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat. A topiary recreation of the artist's 1886 Paris masterpiece -- primarily in Taxus cuspidata (hardy yew) -- the garden is an extraordinarily remarkable attraction that changes with the seasons, and seems to have a strong impact on those who invest the time to visit it.

The garden was the brainchild of Jim Mason and his wife, Elaine. A sculptor who teaches at the department's cultural arts center, Mason developed the idea in the late 1980s, and he and Elaine -- also a parks employee at the time -- were instrumental in providing the expertise and bringing the project to fruition.

Mason designed and welded the armatures for each figure in Seurat's painting, which includes eight boats, three dogs, a cat, a monkey, and people in a variety of poses. An assortment of groundcovers was added to depict the shading in Seurat's work, an irrigation system was installed, a pond was built to represent the River Seine, and the yews were planted. Year by year -- with a little help from its many friends -- the "painting" continually improves. Clearly it's an artwork in progress.

Creating a three-dimensional topiary from a two-dimensional painting presented a unique challenge. Those experiencing the painting have but one vantage point from which to do so: from the outside looking in. However, visitors to the topiary would be able to view the work from all sides by simply walking around and among the figures, and would have perspectives not available to those simply looking at the picture. But Seurat's two-dimensional figures offered no opposite sides upon which Mason could rely to create their three-dimensional topiary counterparts.

What to do? Punt, thought Mason. Engage the imagination. Get creative. Use the artistic license. He could, and did, and as a result his topiary figures have details on their opposite sides -- a wine bottle, perhaps a loaf of bread -- which the artist may not have envisioned. But who's to say?

The garden is a treasure, made possible solely by a three-component partnership of which some communities could only dream.

The Corporate Component

Motorists Insurance, whose headquarters overlooks the park from the north, has been an instrumental player from the beginning, serving as the park's "big brother." Always willing to be part of the solution, the company has worked to ensure that the park remains viable. In 1995 Motorists Insurance was honored for its ongoing support of the project with the National Recreation and Park Association's Corporate Humanitarian Award. …

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