Pathways To Beauty Garvan Woodland Gardens
Hot Springs, Arkansas -Pamela DeRossitte
Editor's Note: When I found this video on YouTube, I noted the author's concern for the quality of the film-making. She writes, "This is a rough filming done on the spur passing through the gardens." The film, however, seems to tap into archetypal tendrils proper to re-visioning forward "psyche's psyche" in architecture. I wrote the author who, although unhappy with the quality of the film, has graciously consented to allow inclusion of the video in this issue on aesthetic imagination. -Stephanie Pope, Editor
Prelude To Viewing "Pathways To Beauty"
The Organic Architectural Design of Garvan Woodlands Garden
The terms “sustainability,” “eco-friendly,” and “going green” have become common in today’s vernacular, partially in response to the environmental emergency that is finally being addressed; but the underlying concept is not new, and actually dates back to Plato and his ideas of the organic unity, beauty, and harmony found in nature. The organic movement came on the scene in the United States shortly after the Civil War, but found its most acclaimed advocate in the 1930’s when Frank Lloyd Wright coined the phrase “organic architecture.” Wright’s idea of organic architecture was in opposition to the European designs of the time, and was based on the idea that structure should arise naturally from its environment, should evolve from, blend in, and seem to be a part of the whole. Wright’s philosophy has been credited with forming a bridge from Plato’s organic concepts to today’s sustainability movement, in particular by having concern for the environment. But while the sustainability/green movement seems most intent on reducing our environmental footprint, organic architecture is more about aligning design with the soul of nature. Wright’s architectural theories encouraged a sensory relationship with nature, a collaboration with nature’s creativity, and an emphasis on the beauty, harmony, free-flowing, feminine qualities inherent in nature, concepts that can ultimately be traced to the Earth Mother goddess cults of antiquity.
Wright’s theories of organic architecture have been carried forward through the work of his many students and admirers. One student in particular, E. Fay Jones, elevated the concept of organic architecture to spiritual stature with such a strong archetypal influence that he was honored as one of the 10 most influential architects of our time. Jones believed that nature’s organic wholeness provided the “clearest manifestations of some higher order in the universe,” as noted by Robert Ivy, Jr. in his acclaimed book Fay Jones (2001). While Jones is noted for his residences, chapels, commercial buildings, and fountains, little mention is made of, arguably, one his most beautiful contributions, Garvan Woodland Gardens.
Garvan Woodland Gardens is a world-class botanical garden located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and began, according to the Garden’s web site, as a “delicate woman’s dream” (http://www.garvangardens.org). In 1956 Verna Cook Garvan inherited land that had been in her family since the 1920’s, a 210-acre wooded peninsula, and she dreamed a dream of designing a world-class botanical garden. In the eighties she enlisted the assistance of Fay Jones. The two walked every inch of the land, looking, listening, learning, and planning how to best cultivate, groom, and enhance what nature had provided. They walked the grounds for days, months, looking at the lay of the land, noting the indigenous plants, the water, light, shadows, and shade. They doted on the project like two loving parents. Who’s to say who dreamed more, the land or the people, but the dream came alive.
As the dream was being born, one of Jones’ final projects before his retirement was to design and oversee the construction of the Verna Cook Garvan Pavilion. The pavilion is a spacious and engaging, yet simple, structure, with a round feminine form, and a Japanese style that simulates an element of floating. It includes a center mandala of glass and iron incorporated into a spire that rises up 50 feet into the sky. I am certain that the pavilion is located in the most exactingly perfect place on the ground for that spire to capture and play with the sunlight. The effect, when standing inside the pavilion and looking up through the light-filled spire rising 50 feet into the heavens, is breath-taking.
Jones, then Dean of the University of Arkansas’ School of Architecture, was instrumental in connecting the Garvan Gardens trust to the school’s landscape architecture department, which manages the trust today. The garden now hosts thousands of plants, many of which were placed by Garvan herself, and several structures, each of which reflects Jones’ unique style, providing shelter and places to gather. Every structure is a homage to Jones, mirroring his style and form. A reproduction of Jones’ award winning Thorncrown Chapel, and several variations of his personal residence, are open for use by the public. Jones’ organic philosophy shows in the bridges, waterfalls, streams, and coy ponds; access to Lake Hamilton incorporates the individuality of the location, and numerous meandering pathways with surprises at every turn, function together as a unified whole, as an organic system. Each structure, every plant, is just where it should be; each a part of what was already there. Wood, stone, water, plants. This is organic architecture: a work of art, a work of nature. Intended to provide a space for inviting the sacred into the lives of visitors, a place to nurture and be nurtured. After years of planning, design, and construction, and with contributions from experts all over the world, Garvan Woodland Gardens officially opened in April of 2002. Mrs. Verna Cook Garvan indeed had dreamed her dream to fruition.
Now I’m not a betting person, but I’ll make you this bet. You get yourself to Garven Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, AR. Take your time driving the long, winding road to the garden’s entry -- with a sheer of stone to your right, an expansive, wild forest to your left, and glints of Lake Hamilton peeking through the trees at the bend in the road – then stop and take your blood pressure, and take heed of your thoughts before you enter the garden. When you get back to your car, take your blood pressure again. I’ll bet you that blood of yours will be flowing much more smoothly and with a low pressure to boot. I’ll bet you, too, that your mind will be at an indescribable peace. You will have received the best of what nature, in collaboration with humanity, has to offer. You will have experienced the enchantment of organic architecture and landscape design at its most excellent, and the medicatrix naturae (the healing power of nature) will be the freely offered benefit.
It is hoped, then, that this brief video of Garvan Woodland Gardens – this quick morning to midnight glimpse -- will inspire you to make your own pilgrimage to the garden, to experience the organic wholeness of nature’s gift, and to find yourself sustained, nurtured, and captivated by that delicate woman’s dream.
Here now, is "Pathways To Beauty"
The best-known of Frank Lloyd Wright's students, Fay Jones, was a winner of American architecture's highest honor in 1990, the AIA Gold Medal. He created what has been termed "Ozark Architecture," considered by some a misnomer since the style exists across the country in cities, towns and rural areas. In 1991, members of AIA ranked Jones among the 10 most influential architects of the time, a list that also includes I. M. Pei, Robert Venturi, Charles Moore and Michael Graves. Later, in 2000, Jones' Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Ark., was voted the fourth best building of the 20th century, after Fallingwater and New York's Chrysler and Seagram's buildings. Jones created 135 residences and 15 chapels and churches in 20 different states, as well as an assortment of other structures including fountains, gardens, and commercial buildings. Throughout his lifetime he published 32 books.
Author Bio Pamela DeRossitte is a graduate student in the psychiatric rehabilitation counseling program at the University of Arkansas, where she is also studying documentary filmmaking. She plans to combine this line of study with that of depth psychology to produce written work and documentary films as an elixir for her tribe.