by Catie Anderson, curator of education
The birch tree allée offered a vista as enchanting as its name evokes. Over 100 white trunks lined a gravel and stone path stretching 550 feet toward a stately view of northern Ohio hills made all the more lush and green by the many days of rain that punctuated our visit.
The Stan Hywett Hall and Gardens is the former home of F.A. Seiberling, the founder of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, and is one of the ten largest country estates in America. The home and grounds include a conservatory, grape arbor, Japanese gardens showcasing waterfalls and moon bridges, and robust rose garden.
When searching for area attractions to explore with family, museums, historic homes, and outdoor attractions such as botanic gardens and parks are always crowd pleasers. When the Stan Hywet estate materialized on a Google search screen, it leapt to the top of the “to-do list.” My natural inclination to visit historic sites, grand manors, and bucolic views is shared by many; last week’s restless hours spent at the Cleveland and O’Hare Airports (thanks to travel delays due to the aforementioned storms) allowed me to consider what it is about these places that makes them so appealing.
Escapism is certainly a key and often elusive element in any weekend getaway as is the appeal of the unexpected. When exploring the halls of a great home, something new awaits around every corner. Each lavish interior unfolds one after another, first offering an element of surprise and then of familiarity as you recognize how a space was used and by whom. Then, voyeurism and fantasy soon take over. A study, a bedroom, a pantry, or a porch – each space is distinct in its aesthetic and association.
The same can be said for gardens and outdoor spaces, which lead us winding down wooded paths, amid rows of roses, and over ponds. Gardens are filled with gems and small details to note. Stopping to smell the roses, quite literally or, spotting an unusual kind of succulent, I wonder, what if my cat eats this?
I’m not a gardener and I most certainly cannot fake my way through a conversation about foliage, so, I have a surface-level appreciation of plants. I’ve gained a greater appreciation recently, though, thanks to the fresh perspectives and bold interpretations of botanic gardens and their star attractions featured in two exhibitions now on view at the Woodson – The Garden at Night and Bartram’s Boxes Remix.
Photographer Linda Rutenberg’s exotic botanical portraits and mysterious landscapes capture public gardens after midnight illuminated by the moon or a single flashlight. A favorite work in the exhibition is her image of a pitcher plant, which I was happy to find suspended in the Stan Hywet greenhouse during my visit.
In Bartram’s Boxes Remix, Leah Woods’ sculpture In and Down and Up and Out caught my attention and came to mind during my walk through the vast home and grounds. The work represents the flow of information between John Bartram and his son William as they traversed the East Coast collecting and documenting flora and fauna and then sharing their discoveries with botanists in Europe via carefully crafted specimen boxes. Mapping of the physical journey of this information offers a unique perspective on a process otherwise difficult to capture. Creating a sculptural “map” with bold, organic lines enhanced my understanding of the significance and complexity of the Bartrams’ undertaking and invited me to consider the exchange of ideas and experiences in my own life.
The most meaningful experiences – which for me would translate into longer, bolder lines – are those that involve my friends and family and when we’re exchanging observations with one another. I like to think that part of the passion John and William Bartram had for their work stemmed from their shared connection with not only the natural world, but also with each other.
The Woodson Art Museum’s summer calendar is filled with programs and guest artist workshops offering meaningful experiences for you and your loved ones. Or stroll the galleries and sculpture garden, too, in search of botanical discovery or deepened appreciation.