We're arguing about which route to take. Should we leap the creek? Turn east and walk until we come to the footpath? Double back?
My friend and I are at the Evergreen House on North Charles Street, visiting an outdoor sculpture show. According to the visitors' map, an installation by artist Beth Morrison is somewhere nearby, deep in the woods.
Somewhere right around here.
We finally see it: a sculpture of branches and vines that swoops along the edge of a winding creek. Morrison has used natural materials to create a space for contemplation at the edge of an unkempt meadow. My friend says "Play the Field," as the installation is called, seems like something manmade tossed ashore by a watery force. But I think of music. The sculpture fluidly imitates each bend of the creek, and its vines twist horizontally between the upright branches like a musical staff with each bar marked by a wooden post.
Evergreen House, a butter- yellow Italianate mansion built in 1858 and later owned by John Work Garrett, who served as U.S. ambassador to Italy from 1928 to 1933, sits at the top of a hill amid 26 acres of formal gardens and meadows bisected by a winding branch of Stoney Run.
The exhibit, "Sculpture at Evergreen," includes the work of 10 artists scattered about the estate and transforms the process of viewing art into a treasure hunt. The sculptures, tucked beneath weeping willows and between boxwoods, dot the gardens like fireflies. Want to see art? Go look for it. This installation, on display through Oct. 31, makes looking for art part of looking at it.
Visitors are urged to break rules traditionally associated with the art-viewing experience. Unlike at museum exhibits, no uniformed guards are on hand to caution the overly curious; no silken cords separate viewer from art. In this exhibit, you must step off the beaten path.
Just grab a map and go.
Not every sculpture is a great success. In some cases, artists have erred in choice of material or in concept. A few sculptures are steeped in meaning; others seem merely delightful. But collectively and individually, the works push you to think about sculpture and the space it inhabits.
The exhibit was organized by Cindy Kelly, director of Historic Houses at Johns Hopkins University, who hopes to make the sculpture exhibit a biennial event. Garrett and his wife, Alice Warder, collected rare books, Tiffany glass, Japanese lacquer, Chinese porcelains and paintings. In 1942, Garrett bequeathed the house to Johns Hopkins University, with the hope that it would continue to be a mecca for arts lovers. In the last year, Kelly has presented a number of exhibits in hopes of fulfilling Garrett's wish.
A field trip for art
We consult our maps, then wander along an asphalt driveway, down a hill and into a grassy ravine. Derek Arnold's "Cateraptasaurus," stands ankle-deep in ivy. "Cateraptasaurus," a dinosaur made of tractor and bulldozer parts, rears on its hind legs, mouth agape, jagged teeth showing. Three children race down the hill toward the creature as we stand there.
A tow-headed boy around 5 years old has his own interpretation of the sculpture. "Here he is!" he shrieks with delight and without hesitation, uses its stegosaurus-like spikes as toeholds to clamber onto its neck and begins shooting his siblings with an imaginary machine gun.
We meander back to the asphalt drive and cross over the creek on a wooden bridge. In a grassy field, brick walls form a private garden -- in effect, an intimate, outdoor room. A discreet green sign says: "Friendship Garden." And inside, three white benches placed amid the hostas, ferns and impatiens form a cozy setting, perfect for exchanging confidences.
On bricks between the benches, artist Gale Jamison has placed red balls made of wound cloth for a sculpture called "First Thread." Two balls here, three balls there. The groupings suggest people at a cocktail party.
When we look beyond the garden walls to the other side of the meadow, we can see a wolf, back hunched and head lowered threateningly. He surely is meant to be the alpha wolf; he overlooks two smaller but equally guarded wolves. We approach cautiously. A sign tells us that this sculpture, by Leonard Streckfus, is called "Wolf Reclamation Project."
When we get closer, we get the joke. The wolves are fashioned from junk. A funnel makes a nice canine muzzle, and bicycle parts make appropriately bony hind legs. Then we look closer still. With a sense of delight, we wonder: What kind of person looks at cowboy boots so worn that the toes have begun to curl, and thinks, "Aha, wolf ears"?
Jann Rosen-Queralt's sculpture "Cultivus Loci: Dropus" hovers over the creek. Using steel and aluminum tubing, Rosen-Queralt has formed concentric circles held in place above the rushing water by metal stakes. The sense that we are looking at an enormous drop hitting the water's surface is heightened by the silvery half-spheres in the center of the circles. We stand for a moment, looking at the sculpture, listening to the water whoosh downstream.
In the formal gardens, there is a golden, arched door. Set into the brick garden walls, it is part of Maren Hassinger's "Golden Door Golden Floor," and seems to lead nowhere. But does it?
The door is flanked by early 20th-century bronze casts of Apollo and Athena. Apollo, clad in nothing but a quiver of arrows and his cape, gazes eastward. Below him, dozens of long golden Mylar strands dangle from the branches of a tree. When the wind blows, they dance and shimmer -- and seem to point to the east. We (tipped off by the map) follow their suggestion.
And so we come upon the golden floor, hidden from view by the boughs of hedges and trees. The floor transforms its surroundings. What was space between branches now seems a hidden passageway. The Mylar floor reflects the tree limbs above it; when the trees move with the wind, the floor seems to ripple like water.
Over time, the golden floor is being changed by its surroundings. Fallen yellow leaves, harbingers of another season, seem to float on its shiny surface. Other leaves, already blown away by the wind, have left translucent imprints, whispery traces of change.
My friend and I walk slowly to the car. Perhaps every sculpture wasn't a complete success. It doesn't matter, we decide. Hunting for the art was great fun. And the treasure was seeing.
"Sculpture at Evergreen"
Where: Evergreen House, 4545 N. Charles St.
When: Through Oct. 31
(An artists' panel discussion
will be held Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.)
Admission: exhibit free; house tour $3-$6
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-dusk