Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Re-Birth of Venus

I'm a summertime girl, but I think I'm ready for a change in the weather. It's going to feel so good once the humidity drops and the mornings are crisp again.

Cool fall weather reminds me of the Charleston Garden Festival which always took place in mid-October.

Other Side of the River's Chip Chesnutt and I designed and built three exhibition gardens for the Garden Festival. In 2006, we decided our garden would be an interpretation of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. Made completely of plants and natural materials, this developed into a very challenging project.

First, let me say that trying to make a painting into a life-size display garden is difficult- particularly when the focus of the painting is a woman standing in a shell.

Once we had settled on this theme, I bought a mannequin off of eBay that was to be our Venus. This is certainly the most interesting purchase I have ever made.

A few days after I "won" the mannequin I selected, she arrived in the mail. I put her together, styled her in one of my more formal dresses, and let her live in my apartment for a few weeks until we were ready to work on her.

While her legs were in the right stance, her arms had to be changed to resemble the painting. So Chip sawed off her arms at the elbow and we re-attached them in the right position using fiberglass webbing (graciously donated by a local doctor). We performed this "operation" at night, adding to the weirdness:


Over the next few days, I covered her entire body with live sheet moss using spray glue:

Our site was located in the Octagonal Garden at Middleton Place. Notice that everyone else had already started setting up when our quadrant was still empty:

Jeff Jackson, owner of Lowcountry Roots , collaborated with us and built this amazing shell out of tabby. The "ocean" was created using different species of Junipers and Cedars. Slowly, the garden started to take shape.

As a final touch, I wove a lavender ribbon through her Spanish Moss hair. The mannequin suddenly transformed from the Swamp Thing into Venus.
I had serious doubts of about this project (and had stress-induced strep throat), but somehow, it all came together.

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