Pacific Northwest | July 13, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineJuly 13, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
Camano Island
Laurelhurst
Ballard
Seward Park
Bainbridge Island
PLANT LIFE
NOW & THEN
SUNDAY PUNCH
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY VALERIE EASTON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ALAN MANDELL
Outdoor Living 2003

Playing with water, shape and time, Little and Lewis sculpt A Fantastic Seduction
 
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The dripping flowers of a goldenchain tree (Laburnum anagyroides) frame yet another magical scene in Little and Lewis' Bainbridge Island sculpture garden. Throughout the garden, tropical plants with their huge, spreading leaves create big, splashy waves and walls of foliage, dividing the garden into rooms and effectively screening and highlighting various views. "This isn't a garden of tiny detail," says Lewis, "it is made to be viewed from 10 feet back."
THE COLLABORATION of George Little and David Lewis was born a dozen years ago, when they both worked in a Bainbridge Island bakery making coffee. Lewis bought a garden fountain from Little, who then helped him dig a pond, and they had so much fun they teamed up to build ponds for clients. They combined talents — Lewis had spent several years as an archeological illustrator in Greece; Little had experimented with concrete for many years — and quickly discovered that they enjoyed sculpting more than digging.

The two artists create side by side, and every piece is signed by them both. Lewis sculpts and Little paints the reliefs, and they work together on the larger pieces. Their sculptures are first formed in wire, which they then cover with concrete, forming it, fleshing out the shape of leaves, faces, fruit, fountains or cosmic eggs. As the concrete hardens, it develops a rich patina with age and weathering. Lewis describes the turquoise, rich greens, ochres, shades of terra cotta and Pompeian red they favor as "bold but weathered; they look like they've been around for millenia. The Romans used colors like these."
 
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George Little, left, is the artistic director and plant collector. David Lewis is the business manager who tries, mostly unsuccessfully, to restrain Little's plant habit. Little says, "The garden affects me the same way as visitors. I like to wander around and dream in the garden, do my creative work out there." Both men plant, weed and prepare the soil, Little sweeps and waters daily, and Lewis says he is the one who frets about it all.
Little and Lewis make objects unlike any we've seen before, drench them in exotic hues, then integrate their pieces into a landscape familiar in its floweriness yet ancient in its nearly archetypal forms. Their sensual stage set of a garden on south Bainbridge Island serves as studio, inspiration, outdoor dining room and art gallery. Even on a cloudless day, the sound of dripping water reverberates off stucco walls and turquoise columns, leading you to venture farther into the delights of the garden. Huge leaves only partly obscure the dozen fountains fashioned in the shapes of mushrooms, flowers, leaves, trees and ruined Greek columns, and painted in Little and Lewis' trademark brilliant blues and greens, coppers and rusts. The garden envelops you with its vivid colors and oversized leaves, while it seduces with watery acoustics and tropical fragrances. The mystery and enchantment deepen when you chance upon an oversized hot-pink pomegranate or a water-filled cosmic sphere holding a single floating leaf.

The garden has evolved without drawings, for the duo rely on impulse and spontaneity for design ideas. "Not having a plan has allowed us to approach the garden as a new canvas each spring," says Lewis, pointing out that the varied groupings of potted tropicals transform the space every year. Now that Little has bought the house next door, they're bleeding the two gardens together, opening intriguing portals between the two. "There's no hurry about it," he says. "The new garden will take shape on its own." In the meantime, their little flock of pugs, wirehaired miniature dachshunds and an aged basset hound enjoy the run of the gardens.

You can have the run of the garden yourself, because the Little and Lewis Sculpture Garden is open several days this summer and by appointment. See www.littleandlewis.com. for information, directions and dates.

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Boundaries between art and plants are skillfully blurred, creating an atmosphere of enchantment and surprise.
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"We make things look as if they've been excavated, with pitted surfaces and washy colors," Little says in describing the distinctive columns and leaf forms he and Lewis create.


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Although the garden is only a third of an acre, it seems much larger due to clever placement of art and plants to obscure the boundaries. Verticality adds scale and space, with potted plants placed atop columns and pedestals while others grow up arbors and pergolas. An added benefit of gardening in the sky is the chance to appreciate plants from unfamiliar angles.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is vjeaston@aol.com.

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