Objets d’Art in the Landscape

Ideas for Unique Presentations

Mary-&-Hugh-Williamson
This is the second of a series of articles on Art in the Landscape by Mary and Hugh Williamson

Photo Left: Al Whitley Photography

Impressive “landscape design” does not necessarily require a large amount of space.  That is useful for many South Floridians, as their 
condominium balconies, decks and rooftop spaces offer constraints.  These spaces can be made to be dramatic and can set a welcoming and glamorous tone using a concept that is comfortable in a space of any size.  The Zen garden is a good example.

Zen gardens can be fashioned to integrate beautifully into limited space, yet expand if you have large grounds.  Components include 
well-placed rocks that symbolize mountains, and raked gravel that is evocative of flowing water.  Zen gardens incorporate strong design 
concepts, such as contrast, drama, repetition, texture and illusion.

As even small, low containers can serve as tabletop Zen gardens, complete with raked sand and small rocks, a balcony provides a rather large opportunity by comparison!

Add a Collection
Americans love to collect.  As youngsters we start with stamps, or coins, or baseball cards.  As our interests evolve, and our means 
increase, we turn to antique cars, fine art, emeralds or whatever makes us smile.  An inspiring idea for a collection that is sure to heighten the beauty, interest and value of your space, expansive or tiny, might be garden seats.

The garden seat is said to have been a significant component of the Chinese Zen garden, hailing from about 600 AD.  The Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) then saw the elite and wealthy incorporating these stone,  porcelain or wood perches into their gardens to facilitate communing with nature at “plant level” and facilitating the tending of their plants. Perhaps the first seats were tree stumps and rocks.

Those natural seats were, of course, not portable, and imaginably not always in the right spot for meditation and being at one with nature’s beauty.  So, a moveable solution was found in beautiful, elegant, colorful and often whimsical iterations. By the Ming Dynasty of the sixteenth century, garden seats were found in local markets, crafted by entrepreneurial artisans. They became very popular and, although usually barrel-shaped, sometimes took on unusual forms, such as animals and artistic interpretations of tree stumps.  These very old and rare cottage-industry versions are still attainable, as are a few Song Dynasty versions. The Zen garden concept spread to Japan around 600 AD, and ultimately to the world.

The Nixon years brought a new interest in the Chinese culture, and that interest remains.  Garden seats, especially antique examples, were rediscovered as an art form, and have enjoyed heightened value.  The Silk Road Chinese trade routes, some of which began as early as 206 BC, had established a precedent for the inclusion of “things Chinese” into French, Mediterranean and English design.  As principles of Zen garden design … simplicity, balance and beauty … became revered around the world, so did garden seats.

Garden seats can be collected as reinforcement to a color scheme, or even be the color scheme, building the indoor or outdoor experience around a spectacular find.

garden-seatingOr possibly this collection can become a treasure hunt for rare and diverse versions and unusual shapes as you travel.  Maybe you will focus on one theme, like the tree stump.  Perhaps you will decide to collect jewel-toned seats. Or maybe seek all-white finds.  You may even choose to make them a part of your interior space. They make wonderful tables as well as seats.  A pair of rare examples could be glass-topped to create a unique table.  Be sure to work with a reputable dealer to ascertain that your purchase is what it is purported to be, and that the piece is sound (lacking cracks and other flaws). You will also collect stories that celebrate your quests for these gems.

The joy of the hunt
As with any sought-after trophy, there are many commercially available versions.  While those may convey the design intent, as does a fine art reproduction, they cannot equal the satisfaction of acquiring a meaningful and vetted celebration of an exquisite art form that has a relevant use in the landscape.

Objets d’Art in the Landscape