Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Secret Garden

Sometimes people just get an idea and go with it. Maybe they pick up some object that's pretty, or interesting, or intriguing, and start really looking at it. They might start putting things together, using them to decorat the living room, or the front door, or the back yard in a way that pleases them.

They might start collecting. Soon, when they look at the world, they look for things they can use to add to the creation in the back yard. The work expands and grows and soon encompasses the creator's entire home. Entire environment.

It's called folk art, vernacular art, self-taught art, outsider art. The creations are called "installations" or "folk art environments." Another, more clever term is Detour Art. But these terms distance us from what inspires these creations. We have to dispense with these terms when we visit such places so that we can experience the joy, magic, and wonder of them.

Some places become famous, like Watts Towers. Others are known only by a small circle of appreciative fans.

Here in Los Angeles, in the Hollywood Hills, there is such a place. Tiles and mosaics, fragments and shards, bits and pieces, mementos and souvenirs and talismans and tokens are pressed into the mortar of pathways and stairs and walls and tables and benches that ramble up the hillside of a residential lot.

It was built between 1991 and 1999. It was built to be a place for children to visit. Although it was the vision of one, many artists collaborated to add bits and pieces and vignettes. With every turn a new avenue opens and attracts and invites wonder. It glitters, it glints, it sparkles. It celebrates peacemakers, princesses, professors, sages and artists with thrones and shrines. It soothes the loss of tragedies like 9/11, the Holocaust, and Hiroshima. It rejoices in jazz, Amish culture, and ducks.

Cameras are discouraged. Except for this one.

It's private. It's secret. Cameras are discouraged.

It's open to the public on Saturdays and Thursdays. But only if you know it's there.

I was lucky to be invited to see this wonderful place by my internet friend Ellen Bloom whose blog L.A. Is My Beat is a great read. Ellen has been visiting this place for many years, and is among the privileged few who has a key.

When we arrived, we were surprised to see that the garden's proprietor was there with gardeners doing a weekly clean-up. Ellen introduced us, and we were welcomed in. We explored the garden at our leisure. When we were ready to leave, we chatted with the owner. Were artists still working on it? No, she said, it's pretty much done; now it's mostly a matter of maintenance. There are many plaques and items dedicated to well-known people - have they visited? Do they know? Mostly no - the dedications honor the contributions of the honorees, some she knows directly, others by public knowledge. She'd love it if they'd come visit, but it was not important.

The most important honoree is You. This throne, "A Throne of Your Own," is part of the public streetscape.

Sometimes, she said, an honoree learns of the garden, and comes to see. Serendipity closes the circle. After seeing the Throne of Your Own, I felt that meant me.

Since cameras are discouraged I only show photos of what is visible from the street. And a photo of Ellen, smiling, as we explore within. Click on all photos to "embiggen."

Go to Detour Art's atlas of folk art sites to find a site near you. Visit it, and share it.


Sharon said...

Wow! Excellent post on an interesting topic. Thanks for the link to the places around the country!

shrink on the couch said...

I just knew Austin's Cathedral of Junk would be listed on your link.

We went to see it last spring but the city had shut it down, saying it was a hazard (you walk through it). But I just heard an architectural team donated time to shore it up and now it's open to the public again. Yay!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

How did they know when it was done?

Seems to me, there's always room got Jello...

Anonymous said...

I especially love that throne!

I clicked the link and found several within a few hours of where I live, plus many back in my home state of WA. I hope to visit at least one of them soon. Thank you for the link!

Ellen Bloom said...

An excellent description of this beautiful garden, Glennis! So glad to have met you. I look forward to reading more about your field trips and maybe even joining in on a few!

Ellen b.