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Fragrant Sumac

Photo by Audra Franz Fragrant sumac along the stairs at the Park of the Laments in the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres.

Photo by Audra Franz
Fragrant sumac along the stairs at the Park of the Laments in the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres.

Fragrant sumac serves as a good groundcover, spreading both outwards and upwards, and providing great fall color to any area. This groundcover can also grow into a small shrub, spreading to 6 to 10 feet in width and 2 to 6 feet in height. This can happen in a variety of places as the plant likes a variety of light; just do not place it in a full shade location. It will also do well in a variety of soils although it prefers well-drained soils. The best soil type for great fall color is dry and poor (sandy and/or rocky). Fragrant Sumac is hardy to Zone 3 and is native to the eastern United States as well as some of the southern states. All of these characteristics make Rhus aromatica a great plant for naturalized areas, informal hedges, stabilizing embankments, and poor soil sites.

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) consists of leaves of three that are smaller than those of poison ivy. The two plants are closely related yet the fragrant sumac is not poisonous. The trifoliate leaves are up to 3 inches in length and are toothed. Fall color consists of reds, purples, and oranges. Regardless of whether you get to enjoy the fall color, crush the leaves and/or stems to release the strong spicy scent of the plant, giving it its name, fragrant sumac. Galls can be spotted on the leaves sometimes, but there is usually no major concern for insects or pests to the fragrant sumac.

Flowers usually occur in March and April, with there being both male and female flowers. The male catkins are one inch long and begin to form in late summer, lasting at least into winter. (They can be seen in the photo below, alongside the berries). The female flowers consist of the typical small flower buds. Both the male and female flowers can be found on the same plant (monoecious) or be on different plants (dioecious). Hairy red drupes (berries) will begin to show in late summer, forming in clusters. Wildlife is attracted to these drupes. Also, a tea has been made from these fruits, which some say tastes like lemonade.

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Besides tea, the plant has been used by humans for centuries. At one point, the root was used in a medicine to help treat diarrhea, as well as the bark and drupes in medicinal items. Poultices were created from both the bark and the leaves. Tanning of leather involved tannin from the leaves and bark. This tannin was also used for dyes.

Next time you visit the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, be sure to make a stop at the Park of the Laments to see just how well the Rhus aromatica is filling in the space. Crush the leaves to catch its strong aromatic scent. And notice how this species of plant is in a tough spot. There really is no shade for it and it is on a sloping incline. Also, it is surrounded by gabion baskets, meaning less area for roots to spread as the soil is in a contained area. Water will drain easily from the rocks and will not be held in except what the soil catches, making for a well-drained site.

Photo by Audra Franz.

Photo by Audra Franz.

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture

 

Astilbe: Brightening up the shade garden

Why is it that every time I think of shade gardens, the first plant that comes to my mind is a hosta? Could it be that everyone just really loves the large foliage, and the many different cultivars to choose from? I personally find it difficult to think of many plants that will add BRIGHT colors to the shade garden to liven the place up. Yes, the flowers of the hosta can be very beautiful, but I want something bigger and bolder. Looking around the gardens on a cloudy day, the astilbes are what really catch my attention in the shade gardens.

061314_astilbe_01Astilbe, also known as False Spirea, is a moisture loving shade plant. Astilbes prefer to have organic rich soils (as does everyone else) with plenty of shade. Having soils with higher clay content isn’t all bad since it can hold a little extra moisture for our astilbe friends. However, be sure to keep an eye out for those hot dry summer days. One of the most common issues with astilbes is dryness. I’m sure many noticed during the 2013 summer drought that the astilbes had brown margins on the leaves, or even whole leaves that withered up and died prematurely. Having an ample amount of moisture is essential to having healthy astilbes. Other than the inability to tolerate drought, there are few insects and diseases that really affect astilbes.

What makes the astilbe such a special plant to use in the shade garden? The large plume-like flowers are what really distinguish the astilbe from other shade plants. Long slender stems rise up from the mound of finely toothed leaves to show off large colorful flowers. With the many different cultivars you could have a simple white or cream colored flower to a brilliantly bright pink or red flower. Depending on the cultivar, there are astilbes that flower as early as late spring, and there are others that flower late summer.

061314_astilbe_02As summer progresses into fall, the flowers will start to fade. The dried up flower panicles give a little extra texture and interest to the garden. If keeping the flower panicles attached isn’t something you are particularly fond of, they can be cut off and the foliage of the astilbe will make a decent groundcover. Some cultivars may even have a reddish tint to the foliage so there is still a little extra color to be displayed. If you are like me and have difficulties keeping rabbits and deer from chewing your hostas down to nothing, the astilbe is a great addition to any shade garden.

Some great examples of beautiful astilbes can be found all over the IMA grounds. The border gardens have beautiful plantings of astilbe ‘Amethyst’ as well as A. x rosea ‘Peach Blossom’. The formal garden is home to a few A. x arensii ‘Erica’. There are also quite a few astilbes that are right next to the parking lot across from the Garden for Everyone. These are most certainly not the only astilbes that can be found on the grounds, so feel free to explore and find some more.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture

 

A place to contemplate

Guest blogger Karen Bower has been a docent at the IMA since 2008.

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010 Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art; The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010
Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art;  The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

The entrance beckons. What is up there? After the walls of cobbly rocks caged in wire you see a dark tunnel. What is this place?

Park of the Laments is the largest public, permanent monument, or “intervention,” by Alfredo Jaar in the United States. The form of the park is a square within a square. One square is rigid and made of limestone-filled gabion baskets. Jaar has said the rough, crumbled limestone is a beautiful metaphor for people who have suffered in the past. The second square, soft and organic, is made of indigenous trees and plants. With walls of green and a ceiling of blue sky this center square becomes a relational art project – a place to escape to and meditate.

As an IMA docent who took many children to the Park of the Laments, I came to expect the squeals of the children’s voices testing the space as we walked through the dark tunnel approaching the light. Preparing the children for the tunnel was important to the tour. We approached an opening with dense shrubs on both sides and a staircase to climb. What will we see next? What is this place? I can see the sky and trees and hear the birds and sit on the wooden bench going all around.

On that hot day in June 2010 when the IMA opened the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, I was lucky enough to meet the artist. “Oh, Mr. Jaar, you are here today! You get to see our visitors experience your new work!” Jaar approached me and said, “My work – it is too depressing,” referring to his intent of remembering those who have suffered in our world: refugees, victims of genocide. But I reassured the artist. A place to meditate and purge our thoughts of atrocities is necessary.

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010 Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art;  The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments, 2010
Indianapolis Museum of Art © Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art; The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres

But how did this Park within the Park begin? Eight works were selected from 60 international artists in a formal bid proposal process to bring new site-responsive works to the new park. Alfredo Jaar was the last to bring his design proposal to the IMA. He had walked around in 100 Acres. It seemed immense to him. How could he respond? The final result is a space of human scale and proportion within the larger landscape. The cobble or rocks can represent lost souls, or not. The vine-covered walls can seem ruin-like or constructed with the idea of porosity – rain water trickling through. Your experience of the space and entering it will be your own. It is intimate and public at the same time. Many visitors feel a hush upon reaching the top of the stairs. Children run and play. Docents invite visitors to use their senses, to become mindful of what they hear and smell, to feel the air. We ask you to describe what you see or what you would name the space.

This is considered one of Jaar’s public “interventions” that memorializes military conflicts, political corruption and imbalances of power between industrialized and developing nations. Hence, the artist’s concern about the public’s reaction to his work on that opening day.

Jaar describes Park of the Laments as a refuge, a place where we can think and dream of what could be. Here in Indianapolis visitors definitely do not find it too depressing.

Filed under: Art, Art and Nature Park, Contemporary, Guest Bloggers

 

The Evolution of Rococo

Today’s guest blogger is DAS member Sheri Conner. Sheri is an interior designer who teaches history of furniture and other courses for the Art Institute Online Division’s Interior Design program.

How did we get from this …

Fig: 1, Nicolas Heurtaut, 1755, Suite of four fauteuils à la reine (flat-back armchairs) © 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/set-four-fauteuil-la-reine-armchairs

Fig: 1, Nicolas Heurtaut, 1755, Suite of four fauteuils à la reine (flat-back armchairs)
© 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

… to this …

Fig. 2, John Belter (American), “Armchair,” 1855 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. C. Harvey Bradley, 80.482

Fig. 2, John Belter (American), “Armchair,” 1855
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. C. Harvey Bradley, 80.482

… to this?!

Fig. 3, Alessandro Mendini (Italian, b. 1931), “Poltrona di Proust” lounge chair, 1978 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robertine Daniels Art Fund in Memory of Her Late Husband, Richard Monroe Fairbanks Sr. and Her Late Son, Michael Fairbanks, 2013.15 © Alessandro Mendini

Fig. 3, Alessandro Mendini (Italian, b. 1931), “Poltrona di Proust” lounge chair, 1978
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robertine Daniels Art Fund in Memory of Her Late Husband, Richard Monroe Fairbanks Sr. and Her Late Son, Michael Fairbanks, 2013.15
© Alessandro Mendini

And what the heck does THIS have to do with it???

Fig. 4, François Boucher (French, 1703-1770), “Idyllic Landscape with Woman Fishing,” 1761 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herman C. Krannert, 60.248

Fig. 4, François Boucher (French, 1703-1770), “Idyllic Landscape with Woman Fishing,” 1761
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herman C. Krannert, 60.248

Rococo style originated in Paris during the reign of King Louis XV. Upon the death of his great-grandfather Louis XIV, the Regent temporarily relocated the aristocratic center from the palace of Versailles to Paris. The new court quarters consisted of townhomes and apartments, creating a need for smaller scaled furnishings. In her book, The Annotated Mona Lisa, Carol Strickland describes the period as, “… a shift in French art and society from the serious and grandiose to the frothy and superficial,” noting that, “… the nobility lived a frivolous existence devoted to pleasure.” Décor took on a light appearance in terms of scale, color and ornamentation to fit with the intimate interiors and care-free lifestyle. Other European countries and the U.S. had their own interpretations of Rococo style.

The name Rococo derives from the French rocaille, which means shell. Rococo style is primarily associated with the decorative arts; however, painters of the time embraced it wholeheartedly. François Boucher for example, was commissioned to paint large-scale bucolic scenes consisting of rosy-cheeked goddesses and putti frolicking in lush gardens and pastoral landscapes (fig. 4). These themes were also translated into furniture design (fig 1). Rococo art and design has been described as romantic, idyllic, curvaceous, naturalistic, and asymmetrical.

Rococo styled seating and case pieces were curvilinear and visually delicate. Carved shells, flowers and botanical forms, scrolls, fruit, cherubs, and serpentine lines are all distinctive features of Rococo furniture. The cabriole leg is highly indicative of Rococo style, often terminating in scrolled, or claw and ball feet. Upon discovery of the ruins of Pompeii, Rococo design fell out of style giving way to the Neoclassic period.

Fast forward 100 years. Rococo is revived! Nineteenth century Rococo Revival furniture is larger, heavier, darker, more symmetrical and heavily carved. Industrial techniques were employed such as mechanical carving, coil springs for comfort, and new methods for laminating and bending wood. Original Rococo furniture was only available to royalty and the wealthy elite. This, along with the affordability rendered by mass production, made the revival version popular among the rising middle class during Victoria’s reign in England.

Pamela Wiggins asserted in her article, Who Was John Henry Belter?, “When it comes to Rococo Revival furniture, John Henry Belter (fig. 2) was no doubt the master craftsman working in the mid-1800s.” He is known for innovations in lamination and carving, securing patents for several techniques and mechanisms related to furniture manufacturing. Belter brought high furniture design to the U.S.; finally we were on par with Europe! Often imitated by his contemporaries, Belter destroyed plans and molds of his furniture so it would be very difficult to duplicate after his death.

Time ticked on … design along with it. Between the wars, furniture designers created radical revolutionary objects for the purpose of mass production. The Modernist Tradition led contemporary design into the later decades of the 2oth century. It viewed design as industry. Stemming from the Bauhaus’ early rejection of historic forms and ornamentation, designers working in the Modern mode embraced geometric forms and new materials like tubular steel and plastic. Form was ever ruled by function.

Along came the Italian design groups Alchemia and Memphis, who promoted a design-as-art ideal in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Based on this new Postmodern approach, design welcomed a decorative, historicizing tradition. Function was secondary. Manufacturers began to hire international designers who were raised to the level of superstars. People like Alessandro Mendini (fig. 3) viewed themselves as “non-designers,” creating personas and brands identifiable as their own style.

Handmade, one-of-a-kind, limited editions replaced mass production. Common recognizable forms and historic styles were resurrected in new and exaggerated ways marked by pattern, ornament, rich color, and luxury. Flexibility and range of materials allowed new sculptural possibilities for furniture. Postmodernist designers in a sense, mined history to conceive works like Mendini’s Proust armchair. Can you see it gestating in Boucher’s idyllic landscape?

Filed under: Art, Contemporary, Design, Guest Bloggers

 

Getting “To The Point”

What do Brussels and Indianapolis have in common? Belgium spawned several artists who fell under the spell of Georges Seurat, the French artist who invented the technique of Pointillism (also known as Neo-Impressionism) upon seeing the ground-breaking painting “Sunday on the Grande Jatte” (The Art Institute of Chicago) at an exhibition in Brussels in 1886. These artists carried on Seurat’s innovative style, and the IMA is proud to have masterpieces in its collection by several of these Belgian masters as well as our own painting by Seurat and his French and Dutch followers.

Photo by David Miller.

Photo by David Miller.

However, our finest pointillist portraits are not on display now because they have made a trip to Brussels to be included in the IMA organized exhibition To The Point – The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886-1904. Angie Day, Associate Registrar for Exhibitions, and David Miller, Chief Conservator and Senior Conservator of Paintings, also made the trip to Brussels to accompany the IMA paintings and install the exhibition at the ING Cultural Center.

Angie was responsible for managing the arrival of the paintings and works on paper that had been lent to the exhibition from prestigious collections in the US and Europe: including transport, unpacking, safe handling, and installation according to the lenders’ requirements and international

ING lighting designer with IMA’s "Portrait of Père Biart" by Henry van de Velde, 79.320. Photo by David Miller.

ING lighting designer with IMA’s “Portrait of Père Biart” by Henry van de Velde, 79.320. Photo by David Miller.

exhibition standards. David performed detailed condition reporting of each artwork to ensure that they had travelled safely and were stable for exhibition, and monitored that light levels, temperature and humidity settings, and security of the artworks were correct. The IMA team worked with Belgian customs brokers, contract art handlers and conservators, lenders’ couriers, and the ING co-curators over six long days to prepare the exhibition for its gala opening on February 17.

Angie and David will return to Brussels to bring the exhibition to the IMA, where it will open on June 15 as Face to Face: The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886-1904.

Here it will include some fantastic artworks not shown in Belgium, including a Self-Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh – not to be missed!

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Exhibitions, Guest Bloggers, IMA Staff, Travel

 

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