Out and about in Houston: Public art and an artful home


Houston doesn’t always get a lot of love, especially from Austinites who invoke it as a negative example of soulless sprawl and traffic. True, Houston is a sprawling major city with congested highways (although I swear Austin may be its equal in traffic jams). But in-town you’ll find vibrant neighborhoods of historic and modern homes, terrific restaurants, international diversity, one of the best universities in the country, and world-class art museums. I may be biased, having spent my college years there and having a sister who lives there, but I embrace the tongue-in-cheek slogan that’s popped up in the Bayou City in recent years: “It’s OK to love Houston.”


Monumental Barn Owl by Geoffrey Dashwood

My daughter, a friend of hers, and I recently visited Houston and spent a fun-filled Saturday seeing public art at the Cullen Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the live oak-shaded Rice University campus. Since my sister and I attended Rice in the 1980s, the campus has added a number of modern sculptures and other works of art…


…like this one by Barcelona artist Jaume Plensa, titled Mirror.


“The figures are modeled in letters from eight alphabets – Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hindi, Hebrew, Japanese, Latin and Russian,” the Rice website explains. “The artist considers this dialogue and interaction as central to learning, and more importantly to understanding, between people and cultures.”

Last year, my sister and sister-in-law showed us another example of Plensa’s work along Buffalo Bayou. I enjoyed seeing more of his work on campus.


The Rice campus itself, founded in 1912, is filled with beautiful examples of neo-Byzantine architecture. A more recently constructed building, Duncan Hall, which houses the Computational Engineering department, is always worth a look during a tour of Rice because of its kaleidoscopic painted ceiling.


The iconic 45°, 90°, 180° sculptures — the girls are standing on 180°, with the Campanile (bell tower) looming behind them — were installed the year before I entered Rice (i.e., quite a few years ago). Three pink granite monoliths in the Engineering Quad represent 45-, 90-, and 180-degree angles. 180° was a popular spot to hang out, sneak a beer, make out, and be photographed when I was a student, and there’s no reason to think anything’s changed. (The other two slabs, at slanted and vertical angles, are harder to climb.)


Another distinctive horizontal structure on campus is the luminous Twilight Epiphany, a Skyspace by James Turrell. I wrote about this Skyspace last fall, so click for full details and morning-light photos. This time, we were keen to experience the twilight show, which is more popular, so we made reservations.


Taking photographs during the light show is prohibited (although I don’t see why, so long as you don’t use a flash), but here are a couple I took while we were waiting for it to start. The white-walled space and benches are inside the grassy pyramid seen in the previous photo. There’s also a row of benches on a second level just under the floating roof.


The white roof with a central square cutout is washed with a slow-changing sequence of colored light, which changes your perception of the sky as the sun sets or rises. It’s a meditative experience to sit there for 40 minutes, gazing upward as the sky seems to pulse with energy. It can be a bit dizzying and make you feel like a tiny creature inside an Easter sugar egg — or at least that’s how it seems to me.

Austinites, there’s a Skyspace right here on the UT campus too, and although it’s smaller and less dramatic than the one on the Rice campus, it’s definitely worth a visit.


Another transcendent Turrell work can be experienced at the Museum of Fine Arts, a tunnel passage called The Light Inside. As with Twilight Epiphany, you don’t merely view the work. You step inside it. The art is light somehow made physical.

As you enter the tunnel, the vanishing-point black flooring is echoed by a black ceiling, with fog-like color suffusing the space on each side. Are there walls? You can’t really tell as you’re walking through. Space just seems to drop off along the edge of the black walkway, melting into a void of rich color. It’s mildly disorienting, as if you might accidentally fall off the edge into space. The color changes every 15 minutes or so, an attendant told me. I wish we’d stayed longer to experience each color. Next time!


I can’t end my recap of Houston art without showing off the artful beauty that my sister and sister-in-law have brought into their own home via new wallpaper and wainscoting. This is their dining room paper — gorgeous!


And here’s their mudroom, with a colorful Chinese dragon motif. And to think I used to disdain all wallpaper (after removing layers of dated paper in numerous houses over the years). Now I love it, and the bolder the better.


As you can see from my own foyer!


Their dogs are pretty adorable too. Here’s Layla, in a portrait taken by my daughter.


And here’s Sammy, stretched out like Cleopatra on the living room sofa. Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing your photo, and thanks, Sis and SIL, for a wonderful Houston visit!

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Magical mosaics in the garden of Wouterina De Raad, Part 2: Minneapolis Garden Bloggers Fling


Yesterday I shared Part 1 of my visit to Wisconsin artist Wouterina De Raad’s mosaic sculpture garden, which was the final garden — and my favorite — on the recent Minneapolis Garden Bloggers Fling. Today I’ll end my Fling series with Part 2 about Wouterina‘s delightful, exploratory garden.

In addition to Wouterina’s fanciful sculptures, the exuberant garden is accented with a half-dozen small structures like this stucco (or concrete?) “little house” with sky-blue trim. They make charming focal points and backdrops for plants and sculpture, like the Statue of Liberty pictured at right.


Check out this supersized fish bench, with a mosaic-tile woman reclining like Jonah in the whale!


In another part of the garden, three human figures are actually chairs themselves.


They even have flowerpot heads.


This one wears succulents in her hair and bracelets on her arm.


Many of Wouterina’s creations wear strings of lights, and this piece looks like an actual lamp. How I’d love to visit her garden at night. I did find this article in the StarTribune that has a couple of photographs of the garden lit up, so check it out.


Another little house — this one colored a rosy salmon. Two sculpted jaguars support a bench by the door.


Wouterina has matched plants to the house color, amplifying the effect.


Peeking in the window of one little house reveals an audience of Wouterina’s creations peering back at me. In a nod to the farm country that surrounds the garden, a rusty old toy truck transports toy horses, cows, and ears of corn!


Behind the house, another arch supports a sculpted snake — who seems to be reading the “Outhouse” sign.


A flock of mosaic crows or ravens occupies this corner of the garden, including one at a birdbath…


…two on an arch, and two more on stumps up ahead.


In a sunny spot, with a big barn as a backdrop, crimson poppies spill over a low fence made of windmill blades.


Behind the poppies, Wouterina grows rows of vegetables, and mesh stars dance along an old section of iron fencing.


I remember asking someone what this plant is, but I forgot. Update: It’s a thalictrum. Thanks, Helen!


Foliage color contrasts


Allium seedheads and a mermaid figurine


A wider view…


…with a mosaic fish sculpture swimming above the garden.


The underwater theme continues with a mermaid and fish sculpture.


What is she holding up, a lamp? Again, I’d love to see this place at night.


Horsetail fills a fish planter at her feet.


I spotted Susan and Layanee sitting on a sculpted bench nearby, engrossed in conversation. What a spot for it.


A glimpse of farmland just past the garden’s edge


A playful bench and table set is another Wouterina creation. The benches are, I think, caterpillars with distinctly cat-like faces. A colorful sculpted bird sits on this one’s head.


And a monkey (?) takes this one for a ride.


Near a chicken coop stand two more sculpted birds.


A mermaid in dramatic repose


Oh, hello!


Tucked amid plants, a sculpted blue jay planter contains a flowering hosta (surely the signature plant of this year’s Fling).


A mosaic planter and pedestal are softened by surrounding grasses.


This chicken throne invites the Chicken Queen — whoever that might be — to take a seat.


Wouterina likes to elevate pots on pedestals in her garden beds, like this one tucked amid white and pink yarrow. Looking on in the background…


…are a sculpted woman holding birds and plants and her companion, a red-crested bird.


In a sunny spot at the edge of a field, I found another small garden room. At the end of the path, arches of rebar stand out against the sky.


Beneath the rebar arches, a sculpted planter draws the eye…


…to a view of the field beyond.


The ground-level view is lovely too, with contrasting foliage colors and textures.


As our visit drew to a close, I lingered near the house, where I found this tiered birdhouse…


…and an alert dog watching from the hydrangeas.


He looks friendly, doesn’t he?


As I reluctantly headed to the bus, I overheard Vicki asking Wouterina about a lovely little euphorbia.


Like giving gardeners everywhere, Wouterina immediately offered her a division. Lucky Vicki!

My thanks to Wouterina for sharing her magical creation with us. And huge thanks to the organizers of the Minneapolis Garden Bloggers FlingAmy Andrychowicz, Kathleen Hennessy, and Mary Lahr Schier — for all their work in putting together a wonderful weekend of garden tours, happy hours, and dinners! If you’re a garden blogger and are interested in attending next year’s Fling, it will be held in the Capital region — Washington, D.C., northern Virginia, and Maryland — and hosted by Tammy of Casa Mariposa (click for early details). Hope to see you there!

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing many of the gardens of the Minneapolis Fling. For a look back at Part 1 of Wouterina De Raad’s Mosaic Sculpture Park, click here. You’ll find links back to all my Minneapolis Fling posts at the end of each post.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Garden artistry at Wouterina De Raad’s Mosaic Sculpture Park, Part 1: Minneapolis Garden Bloggers Fling


Each year at Garden Bloggers Fling, there’s at least one garden that moves me deeply, that creates a lasting mood and feels like an extension of the gardener him- or herself. At this year’s Fling in Minneapolis, that garden was the creation of Wouterina De Raad. (As an interesting side note, her garden is located not in Minneapolis, or even in Minnesota, but just across the state line in Wisconsin’s farm country.)

Wouterina sculpts figures, real and imaginary creatures, and even benches and chairs using wire forms and concrete, coloring and adding detail to many of them with mosaic tile. The Dutch artist, who grew up on a coffee plantation in Java, immigrated to the U.S. four decades ago. She fixed up this old farmhouse, which, when she moved in, lacked indoor plumbing but came with a tree growing inside, and began sculpting and planting her 1-1/2-acre parcel.


Today it’s a wondrous place to explore, with paths leading through sculpted archways into garden rooms populated with Wouterina’s creations, and lush with perennials, shrubs, and trees.


Let’s take a tour, shall we? The main entrance is through this large, tiled arch. That’s Janet, ready to explore.


A loosely circular lawn edged with flowering perennials greets you, and grassy paths lead off in every direction, inviting you in.


Seating areas always beckon to me, though I rarely sit in them.


Four paint-flaking motel chairs add rustic charm that plays well with the old barn and field visible in the background.


A sculpted man lifting up a deer head (a mask?) stands amid daylilies, with a dog jumping up on him. I’m sure there’s a story here.


Other sculpted pieces in this area include throne-like chairs, with a wrapped present on a table…


…a planter on a pedestal…


…a woman and child looking up at a bird on a clothesline…


…and a patriotically attired man holding up the other end of the line.


Wouterina’s house sits at the front of the garden, and its colorful wraparound porch looks like a comfortable place to while away the afternoon.


Wire birds — part of a sculpture in progress


From the house, a grassy path winds under a vine-covered arbor topped with a multistory birdhouse.


On the other side, a rustic garden shed…


…that’s decorated with a wooden fish, animal skulls, antlers, and shells: nature’s castoffs.


A shrine to motherly love appears nearby.


Rows of oyster shells, pebbles, and glass adorn the inside of the egg-like dome. I read more about this sculpture on Laura Wills’s blog post. As Laura reports, Wouterina created it during a time of anguish when she feared for her son’s life.


Another mosaic arch, with a Madonna on top


Mosaic detail


Through the arch, the focal point is a sculpted table and chairs with a woman’s head, backed by what looks like an old vent cap on a pedestal.


A closer look reveals a display of ceramic birds on the cap ledge.


Much of the garden near the house is woodsy, with paths winding among large trees.


Wouterina’s sculptures appear along the paths like friendly sprites.


Her characters are frequently holding birds, although fish are also a common motif. This fellow has both.


Squawk!


Flamingo with ligularia


At the rear of the garden, and down a few steps, a sculpted seating area appears, with two long benches, a table, and a fireplace. Plants grow along the sculpted seats and soften them, imparting a sense of age and mystery.


To the left, two metal chairs are backed by a rusty column topped with a cascading plant.


To the right, by the fireplace, a pink-gowned angel lifts a bowl in which a twiggy, real-life bird’s nest is visible.


Wouterina holds concrete-sculpture workshops back here, near another wooden shed and a wonderful example of her work…


…a woman holding a palm tree like a parasol.


A tin man who’s found his heart stands nearby as well.


At the entrance to her studio — in a restored log cabin — a bouquet of red daylilies brightens a table.


Inside the neatly kept studio, Wouterina’s folk-art creations and found objects are displayed against a backdrop of log walls.


Natural objects like feathers and animal bones enhance vignettes of artful creations, old tins, and curio cabinets.


“Graceland”


This diorama in an old cigar box is titled “Last Tango in Havana.”


And here’s the woman who created this magical garden and art: Wouterina, pictured at left holding the notebook. Her friend was there to help guide us around.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my visit to Wouterina De Raad’s garden! For a look back at the Shannon Garden, Guldberg Garden, Vera’s Garden, plus bloggers and Minneapolis sights, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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