Here’s the cool thing about this blog: when I go see a show or some art, I get to write about it. It makes me take the time to find out a bit about what I am seeing, study the show/art while I am there, and then coalesce my thoughts into something stupid and insipid to write. Ready for the trite? Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times and off we go.
I recently saw two remarkable things a continent apart from each other, but both tied together through gardens. Let’s begin with the recently refurbished 5 acre fountain display at Longwood Gardens. Longwood Gardens is a world-class cultural spot in the Philadelphia area, right up there with the Museum of Art, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, and BRP. The brainchild of Pierre DuPont, LG is a huge complex of fantastic gardens, greenhouses and fountains. Inspired by great European gardens in France and Italy, DuPont came home to the Brandywine Valley and created his own version.
Unlike the European gardens, LG was always open to the public and designed to be shared with the entire populace and not just the small ruling elite. That’s cool! And it’s truly beautiful, a “can’t miss” if you’re in the area. But after nearly a century of use, the fountains needed to be refurbished. Now, this wasn’t a job for the faint-hearted. It took years of planning, hundreds of people, and $90 million to get the job done. Yes, NINETY MILLION CLAMS! For more on the entire story, there is a great PBS documentary on the project called Flowing Water. It’s worth seeing if you are going to visit, or even if you aren’t.
What do you get for $90 million? Some pretty cool stuff. The LG leaders didn’t just restore, but enhanced, the fountains. I like the fact that LG didn’t feel bound by the founder’s original design, but embraced his spirit of using the newest and best technology to put on the best display possible. So there are water cannons that literally blast water up to 170 feet in the air, computer designed displays that are remarkably precise, LED lights that allow for marvelous nighttime performances, and even fountains that pump gas to the top of the water and somehow ignite so that fire appears to be floating on top of the water.
We watched the daytime display of the fountains, which was great. Then we stuck around for the nighttime display. It’s not often that you get to view a garden at night and have it blow you away (although REM did write a song called Gardening at Night).
We checked out the nighttime display from the mid-view wall, which is super cool because you are right there where the biggest fountains are, literally blasting the water way up into the air. It’s like being up front at the Low Cut Connie show. But be careful up there – some of those fountains spin and spray, and some people close to us got SOAKED. I guess it’s more like being up front at the Titus Andronicus show and getting a bit moshed. Because we had the luck of the BRP, we emerged high and dry.
There is little to complain about, but I have two musically-related small gripes. They do play music during the show, but they are such vanilla-selections that it makes you groan a bit. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World and portions of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, among others. You get it right? Be a little more creative, ok? The second gripe is that the music is only piped in for those that stand outside the greenhouses, and not for those who are located elsewhere around the five acre display, including the many who, like me, were in the mid-view wall location.
But those are small issues. I am here to tell you that the fountains are really cool, well worth seeing, and allow for the appropriate use of the word “spectacular.” Do yourself a favor: go and see them. You won’t be disappointed. And tell them BRP sent you – they’ll smile, turn to their co-workers and say “what the hell is BRP?”
Now let’s jump a few thousand miles to Seattle for the next garden-themed show. Dale Chihuly is probably the best known glass artist in the US other than Louis Comfort Tiffany. Chihuly has been working with glass as a medium since he attended college at the University of Washington, and then got a Fulbright Scholarship and spent a year in Moreno, Italy studying Venetian glassblowing. If you aren’t familiar with Chihuly, you may have seen his glass art anyway. Like to gamble? Ever been to the Bellagio in Vegas? That huge glass display above the reception area in the hotel is all Chihuly glass. Once you start looking for it, you’ll see it in many places.
Chihuly is from the Pacific Northwest, and at the foot of the Space Needle, there is a great little museum and garden devoted solely to the hometown hero. Chihuly is a bit like Rubens and other artistic masters who ran studios using others to labor on their works, but providing oversight and inspiration for all of the output. The museum captures different periods of his career. Here are glass “baskets” inspired by those of the First Nations peoples from the PNW:
And then there are the garden- and nature-inspired items, both indoors and outside:
This is some great stuff, right? Colorful, crafted with skill, blending with nature or inspired by nature (or respectful anthropogenic creations), and all reflecting an American master’s vision.
It’s damn hard to improve on nature as these pictures of roses demonstrate:
But the human observation and careful study of nature, something often lost in today’s high-tech world, allows for artistic production that also touches the soul. DuPont and Chihuly are very different people with very different inspirations, but they both have left a creative American legacy that is thrilling and accessible.
I hope you were ok with that art/garden detour. Not every visual experience is worth discussing, and some are almost instantly forgettable. But there are others that grab you and keep tugging at your brain for days afterward, and those should be shared. I’ll get back to all things rock ‘n roll soon enough, but figured this short jog over to another creative path was worth it. Talk to you soon.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.