What do you do when you have absolutely no more room for your collection?
Build a bigger house
If you were to meet a certain Maryland collector at, say, a benefit luncheon for a hospital or university, you’d get few clues to the colorful life behind her modest demeanor. When, for example, the subject of crafts came up, which is surely would, she’d probably tell you with a quick laugh that she started collecting crafts because she ran out of walls. Later she might mention that she recently built a new home because she wanted a bigger bathroom. And so you’d say your good-byes thinking she had a few knickknacks in a house with a large plumbing bill. But it is exactly that, her down-to-earth nature blended with sophistication, her keen knowledge unsullied by pretension, that has built an extensive craft collection showcased in an extraordinary home.
In truth, she did run out of wall space in her old house. And already the walls in her new home in a suburb of Washington, D.C., are covered with contemporary art, including a print by Robert Rauschenberg, a pencil drawing by Chilean artist Claudio Bravo (a piece she loaned to a retrospective in Chile) and works on paper by Jennifer Bartlett, studies for huge glass installation in the new Washington National Airport.
“My interest in art,” she explains, “started when I became a docent at one of the museums in Washington. I grew very interested in contemporary art—that’s what I’ve shown and talked about for the past 25 years.”
And she did get her bigger bathroom. But there was more on her mind than a good soak in a Jacuzzi when she hired architect Michael Marshall to design an 80-foot gallery running like a spine through the house. And to design lots of shelves, cut down on windows to make more room for the collection and panel the doors so that artwork could also hang there.
Marshall, who heads his own firm in Washington, D.C., came highly recommended by friends and seemed immediately to know what was needed.
“Basically, I designed around the arts and crafts,” he says. “We had the opportunity to go up in scale—the old house didn’t have such large rooms and high ceilings. Doors and panels were detailed in similar ways to maintain continuity and highlight the art and craft pieces. We also designed in flexibility to allow for moving the collection around and making room for new acquisitions.” It took Marshall and the builder, Jeffco Construction Company, 15 months to complete the 7,500-square-foot house.
The house sits high above the street below, proudly showing off the strong Italian influences from Marshall’s studies abroad. “The materials we chose—stone, stucco and a copper roof—and the way the house fits to the hillside give it the look of an Italian hill town,” he says. “Even the parking area and terrace in front of the house appear more like a piazza, the loggia across the front of the terrace lending privacy in a park-like setting.”
Inside the main gallery, the Italian feeling continues. Marshall brought in exterior materials, stucco in particular, and added skylights, latticework on the panels and doors, and large UV-blocking windows to give the space the feel of a pergola or arbor.
The collection starts inside the front door, with a perky maid and butler crafted from found objects by Connecticut artist Penelope Weinstein. The butler offers fresh cigars and the maid holds a try and feather duster. “Our friends started putting calling cards on the tray,” she adds, “and now everyone seems to do it. We think that’s a riot.”
That domestic pair prompts an often-asked question: Is it sculpture or fine craft? Indeed, over the decades our collector has crisscrossed the wavy line many times with works such as Nancy Dwyer’s “Bright Idea,” in which the letters I, D, E, A are created from painted aluminum and crowned by a glowing light bulb. Or the intricately crafted metal plant stand by Albert Paley, adorned by a lush orchid, that stands by the spacious living room where Paley recently gave a presentation.
“I met Albert Paley through mutual friends in Rochester, N.Y., where we lives,” she explains. “I asked him to a slide lecture for a charity dinner, and he said he’d be happy to. He shipped some works here, so of course afterwards we shipped some back and kept some!” Paley, indeed, is well represented in the collection, with one of his limited-series menorahs, another plant stand, a grouping of paperweights and a striking, tall metal sculpture.
She and her husband (“He’s more into this than he likes to admit!”) commissioned the hand-painted aluminum sculpture over the fireplace from Heather Marcus of Dallas, Texas. “She uses aluminum because it is lightweight, so she can handle it easily. She came here and measured, then sent sketches and a model. We changed the colors a little—I don’t like things to be matchy-matchy. We wanted more copper to complement Alan Siegel’s copper chair in the room and to tie in with our copper roof,” she says.
The living room captures a comfortable balance between formal and informal, a place to relax and play cards or host a benefit music recital. “The open-rafter ceilings are similar to Italian farmhouses,” Marshall explains, “and because of the shape of the site, I was able to design some interesting nooks, like the card-table corner and the arched window.” In front of that window sits another piece commissioned for the house, Anthony Beverly’s stained-glass divider constructed of bubenga (African rosewood) and walnut.
It may seem as though our collector has met many of the artists she’s collected, but she speaks firmly about galleries being the proper channel for acquiring new works. She obviously delights in meeting the artists, but those encounters are often after her introduction through a gallery or through the occasional craft show. A layered-slate Buddha by Boas Vaadia reminds her of another meeting. “Oh, this is such a wonderful piece. I got it from a gallery in New York City. I knew he had apiece shown in the White House Sculpture Garden, and then I heard that he was going to be at an unveiling of his large outdoor piece at a building in Northern Virginia. So I went up and said, ‘Hello, I have one of your pieces.’ That was fun.”
It’s hard to imagine, the way everything looks as though it were custom-made for this place, but the house almost didn’t happen. Between the steep, triangular lot and the first two architects’ plans (“They were boring, just meat-and-potatoes.”), the collector was ready to drop the whole idea. Then Marshall stopped by with a sketch he made after only one telephone call and a drive-by look at the lot.
“He struck it the first tie,” she recalls, still sounding incredulous. “He walked in with this sketch, and it was this house. I swear to you, it was like Lincoln jotting the Gettysburg Address down on an envelope.” The dining room was one of the few changes, making it separate from the living room. And it is in the dining room that so many of the house’s best features come together. It lies at the end of the gallery with a dreamy view of treetops and sky, no hint of the busy neighborhood in its vista. Marshall charted the sun pattern and created a round window that captures the winter sunset. Crafts displayed here include another menorah, this one in bright pink, yellow and gold-glazed porcelain by Laney Oxman and a sleek maple-burl bowl with woven rattan by Arawio. “I line this with a cloth napkin and throw rolls in it because I love to use anything I can,” the collector says.
During the Washington Craft Show or Smithsonian Craft Show, she makes a point of looking up the craft artists she has met in years past. “Certain artists that I enjoy, I like to buy again. Some people say it’s enough to just have one, but that’s not the way I feel. Kathy Erteman, for example, I buy something from her every year. And naturally if I see that some of the artists I have collected are being shown elsewhere or getting more attention, I am pleased that I bought them early.”
Something else here stands out beside the art and craft collection—scores of family pictures framed individually and collectively. They serve as reminders that this house is a home first and a place to live with art second. Bucking the modern trend to move to a smaller home after the kids are grown, the entire downstairs is designed for and devoted to the couple’s children and grandchildren when they visit. “Lots of people put their families up in a hotel. That’s not for us.”
Moving through the house, our collector points out the ceramic work of a friend displayed next to a well-known artist. “It doesn’t all have to be big names,” she adds, testimony to her love of the work and the many facets that make life rich—family and friends most notably. “My mother became a metalsmith at the age of 65. She took classes at the YMCA in Manhattan, where the instructors were artists who also worked for Cartier and Tiffany. For at least 20 years, she created pieces for just the family,” she says, as she carefully unwraps gleaming and graceful sterling silver pieces.
These works by friends and family are part of a theme running through this collection: each piece has a deeper meaning. “I like things that make you think,” she adds, “works that are a little tougher and more challenging, not just something pretty to look at.” Back in the living room, for instance, she points out Jenny Holzer’s granite bench, on which the artist has engraved phrases and re-emphasized them in digitized red letters tracking across a small black box. “These truisms are quite challenging, sometimes enigmatic: ‘Solitude is enriching,’ ‘True freed is frightful,’ ‘Starvation is nature’s way,’ and ‘Money creates taste.’ I love that one!”
Meaning is what this collection was built upon, much of it private and very personal, but some available to everyone to enjoy, running through the collection over and over again as clearly as those red letters in Holzer’s black box: Love. Family. Friends. Joy. Creativity and Home.
This article appeared in AmericanStyle magazine.
Breathtaking wildflowers will be all around
in the coming months—from parks to roadsides
to wooded trails. Here are some to look for
and where to find them.
Two women walking in the woods stopped to investigate a shock of red against the muted forest floor.
“What’s that?” one asked.
“Oh, nothing,” the other said. “Just an old wildflower.”
I overhead this exchange more than 20 years ago, but I still can’t believe my ears. They stood before petals of red, dew-dotted emerald leaves, pistils laden with gold, fragrance as sweet as the senses can register—a flower that had returned year after year through too much rain and too little, through winter’s cold and summer’s heat. And they dismissed it?
Clearly, these two didn’t understand the power of wildflowers. Gracing us with almost year-round beauty, wildflowers can awaken our senses and lead us to a new appreciation for the natural world.
The Washington area is rich in wildflowers, in part because it’s in the midst of six geologic regions. Within these regions, subtle climate variations and dramatic changes in elevation give rise to diverse habitats, which spawn a wide variety of species.
“We live at the southern limit of the northern plants, at the northern limit of the southern plants, and along the fall line where there’s a change in geology,” explains Alonso Abugattas, park naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. “We also have pockets of plants left over from the Ice Age and flowers from the mountains whose seeds have washed down the Potomac.”
A good place for wildflower tenderfoots to starts is the National Arboretum in Northeast DC. “Our plants are labeled, so you can learn what you are looking at before you go into true natural areas,” says Joan Feely, curator of the arboretum’s native-plant collections. “We have all the common spring wildflowers—hepatica, toothwort, spring beauty, trillium.”
If you’re out on your own here are some of the many local wildflowers to watch for as well as when and where to see them.
Long before the other heralds of spring—the groundhog’s prediction, seed catalogs in the mail, baseball spring training—the skunk cabbage makes its way through the January ground, its heat-producing flower providing a tiny sauna for winter-weary insects. Even after its blossoms fade, lush patches of its bright-green leaves dapple Rock Creek, Great Falls, Turkey Run, and Greenbrier State parks, among others.
Harbinger-of-spring arrives in late February or early March. Less common and harder to spot than skunk cabbage, its delicate white flowers grow in patches in Riverbend Park near Black Pond, in Great Falls Park, and along the C&O Canal.
Next, purple-and-white hepatica returns to those parks as well as to Sugarloaf Mountain and Rock Creek Regional Park in Maryland and, in Virginia, along Shenandoah National Park’s South River Falls Trail (Skyline Drive milepost 62.8 through the South River Picnic Area) and Rose River Loop Trail (milepost 49.4 starting at Fishers Gap Overlook).
As the weather warms, a rush of wildflowers follows, none prettier than spring beauty. Its little white blossoms blanket the forest in Great Falls, Riverbend and Rock Creek parks.
Bluebells sweep across our region around mid-April, especially in Bull Run Regional, Riverbend, and Rock Creek parks. Large-flowered trilliums carpet hillsides in early May in Thompson’s Wildlife Management Area near Linden, Virginia. Native orchids such as yellow lady’s-slipper are also local; a pink variety bloom in the woods of Hidden Oaks, a nature center in Annandale.
Different varieties thrive later in the season at Huntley Meadows Park, a freshwater nontidal wetland in Alexandria. Swamp rose, sedge, and fragrant lizard’s tail appear in June; cardinal flower, swamp milkweed, and climbing hempweed—its white-and-pink blossoms as fragrant as lizard’s tail—come in July and August.
“Look for the water-pennywort,” suggests Carolyn Gamble, site manager of the park, “with its mass of shiny round leaves floating on the water and supporting tiny white flowers. It’s a new one here, as the wetlands are always changing.”
Throughout our six geographical regions lies another habitat: gutters and cracks, ditches, and downspouts that sustain the most tenacious varieties of wildflowers. It’s easy to bypass such troupers as trumpet creeper, which can turn a back alley ablaze with flaming red flowers. Or the lowly dandelion, whose name comes from the French dent de lion, or “lion’s tooth,” in reference to its jagged leaves. If we’d only look upon this “weed” with the respect we reserve for the endangered, we might appreciate its dark-green rosette of serrated leaves framing hundreds of lemony petals.
Even stuck in our cars, we can enjoy wildflowers. Thanks to plantings by state transportation department and regional planning commissions, medians and shoulders along interstates and parkways come alive with a colorful mix from poppies to ironweed.
The botanically challenged women I encountered 20 years ago were no doubt confusing wildflowers with weeds—and in fairness, the two can be the same. Simply put, a weed is a plant that grows where you don’t want it.
“Many plants in their habitats are beautiful and proper, but when they grow somewhere we may not like, most people consider them weeds,” Alonzo Abugattas explains. "Morning glories climbing a roadside fence are quite a different matter from those that can strangle a backyard garden."
Mother Nature is a shrewd landscape architect, and her plans need to be respected, says Mara Meisel, a ranger at Shenandoah National Park. “We strive to get people to understand the value of wildflowers to the entire habitat, and the fact that they need to stay where they are for others to enjoy,” she says. “We have a problem with people picking wildflowers or digging them up.”
Orchids, for instance, are tempting, but their tiny seeds require a specific fungus for nourishment. Poachers sever that connection and will likely fail in their attempts to transplant them.
For all their beauty, wildflowers serve an essential role in nature’s scheme. Bees, butterflies, ants, and other insects rely on them for survival, in turn affecting the entire food chain.
In short, we need to ensure wildflowers’ well-being because they
ensure ours. They can, if we let them, rescue us from the
prosaic and lead us, step by step, into splendor.
In Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass, she exclaims,
“O Tiger-lily . . . I wish you could talk!”
Even people worth talking to can have difficulty entering the
world of flowers. But armed with a special magnifying lens,
anyone can access the language of wildflowers.
A 10X magnifying lens, which lets you view a flower at ten times its size, costs less than $15. Models also include 5X and 15X magnifications. Look at two or three; everyone has different eyesight, and the most expensive isn’t always the best.
Lenses are available at outdoor stores such as Appalachian outfitters or on the Web at www.compleatnaturalist.com.
Keener vision also makes accurate identification easier with the help of a wildflower key such as Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide (Little, Brown & Company, $19). Its easy-to-use approach is based on such criteria as plant type, leaf type, and number of petals.
This article appeared in Washingtonian Magazine.
Dazzling white to lilac. Creamy yellow then magenta. Flaming red and back to white. The honey bees’ dizzying excitement is contagious on a sunny spring day in Haywood Community College’s Rhododendron Garden. One step into this wonderland of robust blossoms, and it becomes a matter of dogged self-control to keep from joining their headlong dash from bush to bush.
The bees are the lucky ones. They get to come every day and watch 75 varieties of rhododendron unfold from early April through May. The garden was designed to extend the blooming season as long as possible—once the rhododendron have given their all, colorful wildflowers and cultivars take over. Even in wintertime, the lush evergreens offer dense, embracing shelter.
It is an oasis, a quiet reclusion from worldly hubbub that has reach even this small mountain community in Haywood County, N.C. The garden flourishes in the heart of a busy campus, a surprisingly short distance from giant, shrieking sawmill blades slicing trees into lumber, and classroom beauty salons reeking of perms and dyes. But all that is a world away, and that is exactly how landscape architect Doan Ogden meant it to be.
In 1981, 35 rhododendron enthusiasts and John Palmer, director of the college’s Campus Arboretum, proposed the development of a hybrid rhododendron collection on the campus. The board of trustees endorsed the idea, reserving a one-acre forested tract in the center of the campus. They invited Ogden to perform his magic once again—he was, after all, the creator of the college’s distinctive campus that hosts a preserved oak forest, specialty gardens mill pond and diverse natural landscapes. He accepted, and the Rhododendron Garden was dedicated on October 12, 1984.
Like the campus itself, the Rhododendron Garden follows a delicate rhythm in harmony with nature. The entrance is flanked by two rock walls Palmer nicknamed “Work” and “Patience.” (He only laughs as he mentions this, as though anyone with any sense knows what he means.) Red-flowering ‘Nova Zembla’ rhododendrons and two big lead magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) surround the Rock Cottage, and attractive supply building that serves as a focal point at the entrance and bears the garden’s name in large wooden letters.
A modest arrow points to the left, and the gardens begin in earnest, a 1/3-mile course of S-shaped curving paths winding up and down and back upon themselves. (A map of the garden resembles a snail’s nocturnal meanderings captured in the morning sun.) In some places the paths are only 10 feet apart and sometimes border campus roads. But careful planning gives the effect of a long, leisurely walk deeper and deeper into the forest. This was Ogden’s genius, a keen sense for natural contours and creative land use that leave few signs of man’s intervention.
“These curvilinear paths were very important to him,” Palmer states. “Mr. Ogden wanted you to look at all the plants, to see them from every point. Although the paths are very close, they are bermed up and change elevations so as to seem farther apart.” In addition to their beauty, the curing paths offer an element of surprise by blocking the view of what lies ahead. Which in one case is a brass plaque with Cicero’s ancient wisdom, “He plants trees to benefit another generation” mounted on a large, moss-covered rock shaded by a Japanese maple.
Palmer points out three round-leaf birch trees, the only tree in the United States listed as rare and endangered. “There were only five or six of them left in the world,” he says. “It looks like our sweet birth or black birch, but it has a rounded lead. The Forestry Service sent new ones to various gardens in the Appalachian region to see if they would grow, and these three are thriving.”
The woodland canopy of tall oak, poplar and hickory filter sunlight only the rhododendrons, which filter it yet again onto the herbaceous layer below. This lower layer of life—dense ferns, cultivars, perennials and wildflowers such as Herman’s archangel, bleeding heart, foam flower, and blood root—add to the garden’s intimacy.
All rhododendrons in the garden are man-made cultivars or hybrids created by mixing the pollen of two species to derive a new color. Included are ‘Westbury,’ ‘Essex Scarlet,’ ‘Tom Everett,’ ‘Lemon Ice,’ and curious names like ‘Scintillation x Madonna,’ ‘Pygmalion x Jack Captain,’ and ‘Shazaam.’ Most of the rhododendron were gifts from enthusiasts in the region, and Palmer still welcomes donations.
Impatiens volunteers push through the winding gravel paths, and galax prepare to launch their foamy spikes. In the same area, the Garden Shelter, another rock building, straddles a walkway, characteristic of Ogden’s style of involving buildings as part of the garden rather than something to look at. A weather vane appropriately forged into the shape of a rhododendron leaf turns in the gentle breeze.
Only a few steps away, a profusion of yellow dominates. Laburnum racemes, glowing brightly even in the misty morning, hang thickly from the Golden Chain Arbor, a 50-foot pleached walk of laburnum trees trained over locust frames that form a golden tunnel every May. A bench at the end calls to sit and marvel. Blossoms blaze. Songbirds sign. Bees buzz. Even a tiny shrew has to look, poking its head from the rock walls retaining the earth around the laburnum and alternating ‘Yaku Prince’ with beautiful ‘Pink Treasure’ behind.
Rock walls thread their way throughout the gardens, unifying and highlighting the natural beauty of the plants. Expert craftsmen concealed the mortar between small flat field stones and large accent rocks to create a drywall effect in all the garden’s buildings and walls.
At the heart of the garden lies Ogden Circle, a 24-foot diameter council-ring surrounded by four seat walls tapering up from the back into the earth. The walls define four paths that cross here, radiating from a centered mill stone, a well-worn keepsake donated from Ogden’s personal collection.
Tall columnar boxwoods, old and uncut, punctuate the circle. Students contributed hanging baskets, wooden flower boxes of impatiens and lobelia, and a living sculpture of broad-leafed philodendron, caladiums and ferns atop the mill stone. Palmer considers this to be a particularly pleasing area of the garden, recalling what Jens Jensen wrote in The Clearing, that the council-ring “is really democratic in its conception. Here one is no more than the other. Its makeup is one of strength and friendship.”
Walk past light rose pink ‘Mrs. Furnival’ and bright cherry red ‘Tony’ to where another arbor shades the path. Dutchman’s pipe vines grow here, their large, heart-shaped leaves and brown-purple, pipe-shaped flowers set to bloom in early summer. The scene is decidedly less dramatic, but the simplicity is welcomed, like a cool sorbet between rich courses. A 50-foot alley of rock and split rail fencing extends from the arbor, red-blooming ‘America’ and lavender ‘President Lincoln’ alternating in the fence's V’s with cinnamon ferns and periwinkle.
Palmer recalls Ogden's planning of this unusual section. "I asked him what he wanted to do here, and he said a mirror image of the Golden Chain Arbor, but he wanted it to be different--long and rectangular with a zigzag split rail fence. As far as I know the split rail fence was never used like this before in gardening. I've seen them in woodland gardens but never like this." Original plans called for a bench at the end, but a large white quartz boulder and bronze plaque dedicating the garden in memory of the parents of the benefactors, Bill and Ruth Hall, add to the quiet atmosphere.
White-blooming 'Gomer Waterer,' wooden benches in a striking sunburst design and spreading sweet woodruff lead to the Rockery, another manmade vignette that could fool Mother Nature. Three large truck-loads of boulders from Spring Creek in Madison County form a natural setting of lichen and moss covered rocks, thick ferns and wildflowers. Two Japanese maples--one traditional and one particularly delicate cultivar--stand in sharp contrast to the boulders. Three benches in a contemporary, cantilevered design offer rest and contemplation. All the benches scattered throughout the garden are original designs by students in the college's renowned Production Crafts Program.
A virtual wall of hemlocks glows bright green, new growth that makes Palmer stop and admire his own handiwork. "That green is so pretty . . . in spring you could almost say they bloom." Next comes 'Roseum Pink,' more hemlocks and the first hint of the real world through a break in the woodland, allowing a glimpse of the rugged mountain terrain surrounding the campus.
Finally, the path circles the garden's outer boundaries as it heads back to the entrance. The twisting paths have thoroughly explored the small forest, increasing a sense of involvement by presenting sites already visited from new angles. The path is then at eye-level with the Golden Chain Arbor, level with the bees. They are still busy with seemingly endless energy. Perhaps they, too, are intoxicated from all the colors, dizzy from the sweet smells. Suddenly, an age-old question comes to mind. "Why do bees buzz?" The answer follows swiftly. "How could they not?"
This article appeared in Carolina Gardener.
Copyright © 2006, Lynda McDaniel. All rights reserved.