Splashing Bubbling Art
In The Landscape
Series PART VII
by Mary and Hugh Williamson
whose Bluffton, South Carolina, landscape
includes cooling, welcoming water features
Few things have universal appeal. Among them are babies, puppies and fountains. Making a splash, or offering a soft, burbling background to your colorful garden, fountains create a focal point that cannot be ignored. Hotels, parks and even the North Lawn of the White House offer the immediate fascination of the action and sparkling music of water. Fountains are magnets. Grand or minimal, fun or monumental, these punctuation marks in your landscape can offer whimsy or majesty.
A Fascinating History
Fountains have a rich history, originally built as receptacles of the elixir of drinking water. Using elevated sources of water, the flow by gravity allowed for water distribution to homes of the wealthy where termination points of aqueducts provided opportunities for artistic basins and opulent baths. This also allowed for showy displays of waterspouts from carved animal head sculptures. The Greeks were the first, but the Ancients Romans used their raised aqueducts and the resulting gravity to provide water to city streets, and to the jets and ostentatious water features of the upper class. With nine aqueducts, the ancient Romans were able to feed many monumental fountains along with hundreds of public access points and numerous baths. The notion of flowing, functional and decorative water sources spread to the Middle East and Spain, as did many other “things Roman”. In a mid-ninth century AD tome labeled “Book of Ingenious Devices”, Arab inventors describe wind-powered fountains. The reality, however, was never proven to have existed.
While many of the ancient Roman versions fell into wrack and ruin during the dark ages, the Renaissance saw a reemergence of these grand and glorious structures. These are the fountains of pleasure gardens. The Medici family celebrated fountains as a symbol of power and wealth. The Trevi Fountain, which is the Renaissance (C. 1750 AD) renovation of the 19 BC termination of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct, draws untold numbers of tourists every year, and brings in thousands of dollars each evening. Tourists recall movies such as “Three Coins in the Fountain”, “La Dolca Vita”, and “Roman Holiday”, and cheerfully toss in their Euros, wishing for a return trip to the Eternal City. Most visitors never realize that the water they see jettisoned from this fabulous sculpture is derived from the Salone Springs, about 12 miles from Rome. That spring is the supply for all the fountains in the historic center of the city. Your source of water is likely much closer!
Great and celebrated architects, such as the Vatican’s Bernini right up to contemporary artists have seen fountains as vehicles for their concepts that appeal to many senses.
And How We Can Continue the Magic
Modern plumbing and electricity afforded alternatives to gravity-fed fountains by the end of the 19th century. Your landscape can come alive with the magic of flowing, musical water, in grand baroque or sleek restrained contemporary styles and scales. Bronze, marble or ceramic, monolithic or diminutive, fountains can add glamor, cooling sounds and dramatic visuals. Popular themes are the mythical Neptune, mermaids and dolphins, as well as animal heads, flowers, cherubs or stark geometric shapes. Your favorite sculptor can provide a beautiful piece to embellish a reflecting pool, combined with dramatic water jets, creating a stunning visual and melodious experience for your guests. Your landscape architect, along with the electrical and plumbing professionals he relies upon, can ensure a wondrous and compelling installation that will transform your landscape, and add universal appeal to your domain, big or small.