ADAMCZYK: The artwork is in the backyard

Ed Adamczyk

People have jobs. I know that – I have one, myself – but what has long fascinated me is what people do when not at work, at least the things they willingly talk about. It is why I have long been a proponent of decorating one’s residence to reflect the coming of the Christmas holidays, and to a lesser extent, of Halloween: they are the only opportunities many people have to create a work of art.

That opinion has undergone review over the years, notably every time I visit a parking lot “car cruise,” those typically non-competitive displays of restored cars, modified cars and generally cars that hold some interest, to history or to passersby. A surprising number of people spend their time, talent and money to restore old wrecks whose fate is more deserving of a junkyard crusher. An industry has emerged, catering to those who need this obscure part for a 1948 Buick Roadmaster or that chrome element to fit onto the door of a 1953 Mercury. In rebuilding these things, in basements and in garages, nerves are tested, knuckles are bloodied, leaded gasoline is found and spilled and capabilities are unearthed, and don’t get me started on the defense procedures to combat spousal eye-rolling. When it eventually works out, it tends to work out beautifully, and these impromptu car exhibitions are the place for the builders to dispense advice and receive compliments.

It is the same thing with painters, sculptors, muralists, kitchen apron designers and makers – yes, I know one – and any number of endeavors that have love at their core and dedication to the art or craft and a need to show off what has been accomplished. My hometown even has an organized circle – with meetings and everything – of those with a commitment to knitting and crocheting.

Well, I found a new one.

Many communities offer an annual “garden tour” in the summer. If it implies old ladies with rose bushes, piles of topsoil to be moved and a general keep-off-the-grass attitude, you are one incorrect patron of the arts, pal. The garden tour, in which a municipality or similar organizer prints up a map of addresses of people eager to show off their backyards, then stands back while visitors walk or drive house-to-house to see what’s going one, is as remarkable as anything involving the resurrection of a Studebaker or whatever your kid is doing that some teacher thinks is art.

And like those car guys and their car cruises, or you and that tangle of outdoor lights on a long wire, the practitioner plans, and then executes. The backyard is the canvas, no matter how small. The results can be stellar.

I visited the tiny backyard of a young couple, who also make beer and wine in the basement. They make it from the grapes they grow along a fence, and from the hops they grow by planting them in an overhead gutter, with vines descending downward along the side of the house. The rest of the yard includes architectural dividers in the Frank Lloyd Wright style, and a koi pond. Think of a 12-ounce goldfish, swimming around in a gravel-surrounded pool to affect a sensibility of tranquility and clear-mindedness. That’s a koi pond.

Another homeowner had three small rivers running through his property, with small motors recirculating water onto rocks collected on hiking tours across America. The place lights up at night with the soft glow of carefully curated illumination.

A third offered potted plants galore, massive-leaved vegetation in massive containers. More mood lighting, and music, and a small disco ball. Add a cocktail and you’d feel like you’re in a movie about Singapore or someplace.

I should add that I, and likely you, do not reside in any place that could be called an “artist’s colony.” These are examples of what people do in their idle time, and do it impressively, whether their medium is a canvas and paints, a Packard fender and a lot of sandpaper or a backyard in need of something so let’s make it a work of art.

Many years ago – a lifetime ago – I was employed in a factory, and spent an occasional moment of despair noting that my employer hired me for only one element of my potential – lifting something heavy onto a machine holding a dial, noting the position of the needle and then removing the piece – and I was not the only one. Those with such an attitude collected their paychecks and dedicated their off-hours to undertakings more personal and fulfilling.

A few like-minded people can are tilling their urban and suburban backyards and generally turning their real estate into art. Finding these homeowners was a delight to me: I have always admired what people do when offered an opportunity to do it, and now I have discovered more to admire.

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