Cracked bowling balls nesting in pea gravel. An orange and yellow sunflower made of metal fan blades. Cobalt blue and forest green bottles decorating a “tree.” Visitors to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower can see these offbeat objects as part of a unique exhibit opening September 4 that celebrates yard artists from across Texas.
“Yardists” express a sense of place by using whimsical found objects, painted stones, statues and more to turn home landscapes into oases of art and exuberant personal expression. With the help of sponsors Texas Folklife and the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, the Wildflower Center is displaying several eclectic creations from the Lone Star State featured in Jill Nokes’ book “Yard Art and Handmade Places” Extraordinary Expressions of Place.”
Nokes, a native plant expert and landscape designer, sought to highlight remarkable yard art and the deep personal meaning they evoke in their owners. Among the most visible examples in the exhibit at the Center through early December is the work of Vince Hannemann, Austin’s creator of the “Cathedral of Junk.” His new piece, “The Sporting Life,” involves a small, dense yet organized “house” of junk. Large window panes, rebar, shopping carts, crutches and bicycle wheels provide stability, while tennis rackets, a single white roller skate, “icicles” of CD’s on string and more embellish the rough edges.
“Yard art is entertaining and fun” says the Wildflower Center’s Joe Hammer, an artist himself and director of the Center’s product marketing. “It certainly produces reactions and involvement.”
Hannemann says his personal interest in this art form began early. “It started out with me just playing in the backyard as a kid.” His attraction to all things junk continued into adulthood. After moving to Austin in 1989, he continued tinkering with items most would classify as junk, eventually learning to transform odds and ends into towering masterpieces.
When asked what his designs represent, Hannemann replied, “My creations use the same shapes and themes to represent a spirit house of sorts. Like a bottle tree…same idea. Having it in the yard is pretty. Plus, plants and animals like it.”
Most of the material Hannemann uses is donated by people who need to get rid of old, sentimental pieces from their past too precious to throw away. “Perhaps,” he jokes, “they give me their belongings in exchange for good karma.” It beats loading up landfills.
North American spirit houses and other yard art have cultural underpinnings beyond this continent. Bottle trees and spirit houses trace back to Africa, Thailand and beyond, with shiny objects or mini-houses placed around homes to ward evil spirits away.
A contemporary bottle tree graces the Homeowners Inspiration Gardens. Designed by Mark Weiland, it involves several poles of rebar that act as branches of a tree with an assortment of colored bottles and vases slipped onto the ends.
Other outdoor exhibits feature southwestern themes. And indoors at the McDermott Learning Center, visitors can see photos of Texas yard art projects and a collection of decorative bird houses.
Vince Hannemann hopes that Wildflower Center visitors will come to appreciate his and other “yardists” works of art. “I want people to be able to look at junk in a different way. It’s easy to create. Maybe people will think ‘I can do that’ and then create their own piece of art.”