Hundreds of plant lovers partied with music, food and wine at the Alaska Botanical Garden's annual Midsummer Gala on Thursday night. Among the peonies and snapdragons were several sculptures and paintings being sold to raise funds for the facility.
The pieces -- most of which remain on display at the garden through Thursday -- ranged from realistic to abstract, fanciful to contemplative, purely decorative to designs that just might double as a practical trellis. And most were plenty sturdy enough to stand up to year after year of weather in the great Alaska outdoors.
Like Mark Couch's free-standing wrought iron construction, "My Rock Garden," with stones wrapped in dangling fingers of metal curled with expert blacksmithery. Or "Serengeti Sunrise," by show organizer Marieke Heatwole, an assemblage of horizontal rods, strips and saw bands. Or Rick Potter's giant hand forged flowers.
Becky Grunder and Isolde Gibson feature Alaska wildlife in their clay items, a salmon atop a column in Grunder's "Fish On" and a wide-mouthed baby raven by Gibson titled "Spring Chick." Wendy Gingell has used clay panels to create murals. Barbara and Dillon Miller are represented by concrete "fossils" made from local giant leaf plants like cow parsnip and devil's club.
Paul Button said he modeled his "Garden Sprite" after one made by Frank Lloyd Wright and Alfonso Iannelli for Chicago in 1915. It's hand-crafted from red cedar and treated with exterior grade oil and "should last many years," he wrote in an artist statement. The piece can either be re-oiled or allowed to weather with the seasons, which he said would draw more attention to the form.
Paintings or mixed media work in the show, by Rhoda Scott, Ayse Gilbert, Jannah Sexton Atkins and Linda Infante Lyons, will need to stay indoors if the buyer wants them to last. But one painting, a giant blue jay by V Rae, should prove hardy enough for outdoors or even (the artist's suggestion) as part of a shower enclosure. It looks like a watercolor behind glass but is really a dye infused aluminum print.
The paintings have gone back to the artists or home with the buyers; but the sculptural garden art remains on view, making this a particularly good time to visit the garden. Windstorms in September wrought havoc on the grounds, ripping up trees and shattering a fence. The staff has been busy putting things back in shape and, hours before the gala began, workers were busy with rakes and wheelbarrows all around the grounds.
"We've been doing a lot of chipping," said executive director Julianne McGuinness. "A lot of trees were down."
The repairs come in the middle of a series of important upgrades at the garden. McGuinness noted a new one acre horticultural research plot that's going in, a rustic "forest health" research trail that focuses on the natural ecology of the area, andthe freshly blacktopped loop trail, re-routed to make the grounds more accessible to visitors with limited mobility.
Plants in the plot known as the "Upper Perennial Garden" will soon be moved to other locations and the site transformed into the "Anchorage Heritage Garden," a replica of the garden style popular in Anchorage 100 years ago. "It was very different from the gardens we have now," McGuinness said.
The Heritage Garden is being designed by Gilbert, a garden designer as well as an artist, and is due to be dedicated in 2015 to coincide with the Anchorage Centennial Celebration.
Closer at hand, the dedication of the recently completed Lile's Garden will take place this coming week. Named after Alaska pioneer Lile Bernard Rasmuson, the elegant layout by landscape architect Carol R. Johnson features perennials and fruit trees set in a yard of brick pavers. It's said to reflect Athabascan beadwork.
McGuinness said the late spring hasn't stopped the flowers from coming on. "With the hot weather and sun we've had, the bloom times are maybe a little earlier this year."
The growth has been so rapid over the past few days that, she said, "I wish we had a time-lapse camera on some of these plants."
Reach Mike Dunham at email@example.com or 257-4332.
Artists with work at the garden art show
Jannah Sexton Atkins
Linda Infante Lyons
Laura Mendola and Jay Smith
Barbara and Dillon Miller
By MIKE DUNHAM