Columbus, Ohio is a half-world away from the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. Even so, they meet in the mid-west in a one-of-a-kind garden known as Topiary Park.
“It is the only garden in the world that mimics a painting,” Marcie Matthews, Master Gardener and president of Friends of the Topiary Park, told me as we met in the garden’s gatehouse visitor-center.
“Not only is it the only landscape of a painting of a landscape,” she continued, “it is also the only known topiary interpretation of a painting.”
Painting inspires landscape ….
The painting is Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte.
La Grande Jatte lies in a portion of the Seine running through the posh and serene Neuilly-sur-Seine. In Seurat’s day, the island provided an attractive, upscale, getaway into the outdoors for the larger Parisian community.
Seurat credited with pointillism ….
Seurat, a post-impressionist artist, is credited with devising a technique known as pointillism, in which small dots of color are applied to form an image. Pointillism counts on the viewer’s eye and mind to blend the spots into color tones. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, is Seurat’s best- known work.
Beginning in 1884, Sunday after Sunday Seurat positioned himself on a rise in the island to sketch the wide cast of characters come to enjoy an afternoon in the outdoors – pleasure boaters and fishermen; young and old of all classes lounging, seated, strolling; animals, including dogs and cats and even a monkey.
More than 60 Sundays and sketched drafts later, in 1887 his A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was ready for viewing.
“Bedlam,” “scandal,” “hilarity”, critics decreed when it went on display in Paris. Now it is considered to be the greatest among Seraut’s some 50 paintings.
Undoubtedly there would have been more, but in 1891 death claimed his career at age 31. His mother rolled up the canvas and put it in the attic. In 1924 the painting resurfaced. Purchased by an art lover, it is now on indefinite loan to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Park located in Historic District …
Columbus’ topiary interpretation of the painting is surrounded by the city’s Historic District on property once occupied by the Ohio School for the Deaf from the 1890s until 1953. In 1981, the abandoned buildings were destroyed in a fire. Piles of rubble and debris resulting from the fire were spread over the site, covered with a couple of inches of soil and became, as Marcie described it, “a not very attractive public park.”
Not true today. What is officially known as Old Deaf School Park, but commonly referred to as Topiary Park, has been turned into seven landscaped acres of flowerbeds, shrubs, and more than 220 trees. One section is devoted to Seraut’s living work of art.
Viewing the landscape of a painting …
At Marcie suggestion, as she accompanied me to the “landscape of a painting,” I stood on a rise situated above the topiaries so that I might have the same view of the goings on as had the artist when he sketched Sunday after Sunday.
Providing a sense of perspective, topiaries closest to me were the largest – one standing at 12 feet. Figures became progressively smaller as they reached the pond that represents the Seine.
The scene before me had its genesis, as Marcie told me the story, when sculptor James Mason and his then wife Elaine, director of Columbus Parks and Recreation, were discussing over a glass of wine what could be done about the city’s “not very attractive public park.” Somehow, Georges Seurat’s painting sprang to mind.
Brass armatures created …
James created brass armatures for a total of 54 human figures, eight boats, three, dogs, a monkey, a cat. A species of yew was chosen as greenery, with Elaine tying thousands of branches in place. In 1992, Paris met Columbus, Ohio with the opening of Topiary Park.
The greenery has filled in nicely through the years, the shapes requiring maintenance but once a year, in June, after all new growth has emerged. Sheep shears do the job.
If you go …
The garden is located at 180 East Town Street. For more information go to www.TopiaryGarden.org. Friends of the Topiary garden, email [email protected], provides a calendar of events. For more about Columbus, Ohio see www.ExperienceColumbus.com .