by Steve Tobin
George Ball, his face shining with his typical enthusiasm, making sure
Phil and I noticed the minute detail in one of his favorite
Steve Tobin sculptures.
On entering the farm grounds we found gigantic metal sculptures at the entrance, part of a series named New Nature, which, to me, resembled Brobdingnagian seed pods, or perhaps giant pollen grains.
I'm also reminded of the serried ranks of pipe in a pipe organ, as well as--at the opposite end of the metaphorical spectrum--cannons, guns. One thing's for sure, these are energetic works and, like a conversation with George Ball, they can literally make your mind pop with ideas and new associations.
Further in we found a large field, a many acre expanse holding several large Tobin sculptures, some like quirky, playful, giant tools or machines for some as yet unknown purpose ...
... others, massive stylized tree roots, some with the grace of dancers, swirling with motion ...
... lounging metal lozenges, like a group of seals lolling on their wet rocky perches, or perhaps suggesting an abstract version of Rodin's The Burghers of Calais ...
... and a highly abstracted tree root, its shining black catching the blue of the sky ...
Phallic, no doubt, and in conversation with one another ...
There is also a collection of more realistic portrayals of tree root systems in bronze, this one reminiscent of Trinity Root ...
Partway through our visit, this big guy--George, but we didn't know who he was at the time--came out of the house with his dogs, gesticulating to us across the field and calling out to tell us to stop by when we finished -- all this from several hundred feet away. (As I said, it was a very large field.) When we got to the house, George introduced himself, invited us inside and gave us drinks. We joined him in his study for about an hour.
George is a large man, easily exceeding six feet by several inches, with a welcoming, quick, earnest manner, an almost unbounded enthusiasm, wide ranging interests, and a generosity of spirit that was quite unexpected (we were, after all, strangers, though his knowledge of my blog had been some kind of introduction). I, normally reticent and quiet around people I don't know well, found conversation easy, fascinating, actually. We talked about many things ... the book both of us were reading (Hybrid by Noel Kingsbury), the amazing basketball talent of Native Americans, who George thinks are the best players in the world, Heronswood, and what is and isn't happening with that business since Burpee purchased it in 2000.
His take on Heronswood was an interesting one. As many in the gardening world know, George has been targeted as "the man who destroyed Heronswood" since his company purchased it. I suppose this is a risk inherent in taking over a business with such a loyal, almost fanatical, following. I felt much the same when I read of the purchase years back. My own fantasy was this: big American corporation absorbs small, famous, world renowned nursery, yet another example of capitalism turning all things of value into commodities. I've since retreated from that attitude. As George pointed out, the owners of Heronswood were ready to move on to other things, and they made the decision to sell. In fact, George and company found that many of the plants that grew so successfully in the rain forest environment of the Pacific Northwest had to be painstakingly tested for their adaptability to climatic conditions in the rest of the U.S. So Fordhook Farm in Doylestown, has become one of the trialing grounds, where the plants are grown to determine how well they fare outside the native Heronswood domain on the Kitsap peninsula.
Unfortunately, we had to leave to return to a house guest we'd left at home. George insisted, however, that he give us a quick tour of a few areas around the house before we left, and we were happy to accept. One of the highlights was a prototype for Trinity Root. Here George is explaining.
Next we went up to the house to see his favorite work by Tobin, one of a group called Earth Bronzes on Tobin's web site.
These are rather atavistic-looking, sometimes disturbing, collections of animals and natural objects cast in bronze, roughly in the shape of grave stones (my image), and suggestive of some ancient religious purpose. Here, a detail shows Tobin's virtuoso technique:
Near the end of our tour was this piece, which was on loan and about to be moved, a 'Bamboo', certainly one of my favorites ...
Last was a new work called 'Syntax'. George explained that Steve Tobin in some way acquired a collection of metal letters, which he painstakingly fabricated into this patinated globe.
|George Ball, in a rare quiet moment.|
It is possible to see the Burpee gardens and Tobin collection, though an appointment is necessary since Fordhook Farm is a corporate headquarters and private home. Call Linda, or leave a message, at 215 345 1766, fax 215 345 1791, if you want to visit.