ABOUT OUR STUDIO

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ORNAMENT and the AMERICAN GARDEN:

The Work of Lunaform Studio

PATRICK CHASSÉ

Ornamental objects have been displayed in gardens throughout recorded history. These statues, vessels, containers, and tablets served roles: spiritual--such as figures of protective gods and saints--and physical--such as cisterns and plant containers. Use of objects for purely aesthetic display can be traced back to classical antiquity, and continues in garden design today.

 

The aesthetic and horticultural evolution of gardens is linked with the artistic expression and appreciation of the period, as well as the view of Nature and one’s place in it. Historical, visual, literary, and musical allusions become embedded, like symbolic tags, tying garden components into the broader cultural fabric and locking into a standard “language” of garden and landscape art that carries over into other visual arts.

In the West, the ties that bind objects to gardens are deeply rooted in classical antiquity, and the display of fine art in the garden has become a cultural expression and measure of status and material wellbeing. The Italian Renaissance refined these traditions with the development of display gardens in which genuine antique statuary and objects were featured--instead of copies. Classical gardens, visually citing a “Golden Age,” became common, and these ideals were “exported” to the New World along with the institutions and culture of the colonizing nations. Despite the new geographical contexts, which differed dramatically from those of the European home countries, the styles and traditions were pressed into place.

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In America, colonial gardens reflected the Georgian spatial order with little figurative decoration, despite the introduction of classical garden ornament into 16th Century England. The popularity of Italianate and other imported styles at the end of the 19th Century brought a crisis of culture in New World gardens: can there be or should there be an independent “American” style? The growth of a wealthy class during and after the Civil War led not only to estate design with lavish gardens, but also to the “Grand Tour” as a cultural and social display. Many such travelers, impressed by what they saw, brought back antiquities and copies to ornament their homes and gardens.

At the turn of the century, the influence of the growing Arts and Crafts movement in Europe reached American shores and catalyzed a great interest in creating new art forms regionally. A Swedish immigrant, Eric E. Soderholtz, transplanted to Maine, opened a workshop to create garden pottery from “modern” concrete that would emulate the power and spirit of great European and Asian garden ornaments. He developed several ingenious techniques for forming large vases, pots, and vessels on a wheel, as in the ceramic tradition, and gave them finishes that evoked the weathered patinas of antique pieces. These were distributed regionally, mostly in Maine and Newport, and many survive today, with a venerable presence. Soderholz’s work was a major inspiration for the formation of the Lunaform Studio, in the same region of Maine, which has taken these Arts & Crafts traditions a great leap forward for modern gardens—internationally. They are the foundation for a restoration of the artistic significance of garden pottery as garden poetry.

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LUNAFORM:

Of Art and Craft

CARL LITTLE

With more than 100 designs now in its repertoire, Lunaform has consistently bridged the worlds of craft and art. While meticulous in their production, Lunaform artisans have a hand in every step of the process, from the initial shaping of the forms to the coloring at the end. No two pieces turn out exactly the same. Each urn, planter, bowl, and basin is its own singular work—of art and craft.

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The various designs enter the catalogue by a myriad of routes. Some are commissioned; some spring from the design intelligence of Lunaform’s founders, Phid Lawless and Dan Farrenkopf. There is a rich dynamic in the creation of each piece that encompasses form and function—and the aesthetics of shapely ornaments that will take their place in the landscape, rural, urban and places in between.

The designers often work closely with clients to come up with the final design. Those clients are frequently landscape architects working on projects across the country—an arts academy in Florida, Rockefeller Center in New York City, a residence on Mount Desert Island. From a simple pencil sketch of a design, Lunaform will draw up the piece in Adobe Illustrator, working up exact dimensions for all parts of the design. Then the process becomes a give and take of refinements.

In discussing their designs, Lawless and Farrenkopf borrow from a range of art and craft disciplines. Many of the terms they employ relate to ceramics, which is one of the foundations of their work, both in design and technique. It is fitting that in some of its manifestations, the concrete that is the principal element of Lunaform creations resembles clay.

The designers also borrow from physics. In speaking of a closed form like the Ebro urn, they explain how gravity works with and against the construction of the comely shape. Gravity leads them to use layered concentric shells (as many as five) in the formation of each piece. This approach distinguishes Lunaform’s work from mass- produced ornaments.

 

Another distinguishing feature is the scale: some pieces are more than five feet tall. “Because

we work from the inside out, with puzzle like formwork” explains Farrenkopf, “we can achieve taller pieces.” He likens the reinforcement structures—the “complexity of the mold”—to a belted tire. “Our process is slow, but strong,” he says.

 

On any given day, a number of different pieces are in production. One member of the Lunaform crew may be gloving on the bonding agent that serves to meld the near- seamless layers of the wall of an Ebro urn while a second winds a spiral of steel wire around the curving girth of a Calabria bowl.

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Each vessel has its own armature and templates, which allow the Lunaform crew to work on as many as a dozen in one week. Sometimes the customization of a design can take place over an existing form—adding a shadow line to an urn, for example. The artisans can also tool into the leather-hard concrete, or modify or even replace a template.

Often, the designers will be asked to create a piece based on something already in the catalogue—“between two dimensions we already have,” Farrenkopf explains, “or something entirely new, custom-made.” The Lunaform team may also choose to produce a piece that will fill in a particular line. Or they follow their muse in a new direction.

 

Then there is the naming. With a map of Italy spread out on a table, the designers often choose a city or a town, a river or a region, some of them famous—Capri, Palermo, Umbria—others less so. Sometimes the choice is random, at others quite conscious: the Borghese urn owes something to the vessels found in that famous garden in Rome. Other names derive from the patrons who inspired them while still others, like the Reef Point, relate to the history of landscape architecture, in this case the famous garden and grounds of Beatrix Farrand’s home in Bar Harbor.

A short while after a piece is rendered, and before it goes to the color studio, the designers cut a small rectangle out of the surface and add the Lunaform emblem using a metal dye that is carefully tapped into the concrete. The “chop,” tooled in steel, in the mid-1990s by Chong Lim, a local Korean-born artisan, completes each work, serving as the artists’ signature. For these beautifully crafted objects are, in the end, works of art.

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