Saturday, October 16, 2010

THE LAST PICTURE SHOW

Because I wanted to record a vivid picture of Tennessee that I could take with me when I returned to Louisiana this month, we ventured over to Nashville to see the famous Cheekwood Gardens, 55 acres of lovely gardens and an art museum. The estate was built by the Cheeks, who established their fortune through Maxwell House coffee at the turn of the century and includes a 30,000 square foot Georgian-style mansion with formal gardens and a museum of art with collections of American and contemporary painting and sculpture.

I had seen the work of Chihuly, a glass artist, at the Hunter Museum in Chattanooga last year and loved his work, and the added draw to Cheekwood was an exhibition of his glass art that was installed throughout the grounds of the estate. Chihuly has had a lifelong affinity for glasswork within botanical settings, and at Cheekwood he juxtaposed organically shaped sculptural forms with landscape that showcases nature and art.

One picture is worth a thousand words, and the glass pieces that were installed on the beautiful grounds tell the story of the integration of art with nature more eloquently than any of my travel pieces could. The photographs we took in the gardens appear below.

One of my favorites was a grove of cattails, rendered in slender orange glass, waving from the ground above a purple ground cover, which reminded me of the cattails that grow in Louisiana coulees.

Another installation of bamboo stalks intrigued me, particularly the story of their creation. In order to create the long, tubular shape of a reed, a glassblower was elevated in a mechanical lift while blowing through the pipe to make the form stretch, and another glassblower pulled the red glass toward the ground to form the beautiful bamboo trunks.

The Walla Wallas installation consists of multicolored beach ball floats that have long glass tips and are said to resemble eastern Washington State’s Walla Walla sweet onions. Visiting children were fascinated with this display.

And, of course, the silvered purple herons waving like cobra heads in the herb garden enchanted me. The herons are a product of Chihuly’s experimentation with blowing different shapes and using new techniques while he worked in Finland.

We didn’t stay late enough to see the glass pieces illuminated at night, but we lunched at the famous Pineapple Room Restaurant before leaving “the house and gardens that coffee built.” This visit to Cheekwood was a spectacular finish to our Spring and Summer sojourn in Tennessee.
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