A client asked why do I garden. Without hesitation I said, "Because I find beauty and magic in nature and am compelled to recreate it, big or small. And I've always been drawn to Japanese and Chinese art and philosophies."
I began learning about bonsai and miniature landscapes in 2004, and found a teacher in Tom Kedrok at Five Stone Gardens. In June 2010 he invited me to build a Japanese garden with him, complete with water features, rock work, Japanese-style pruning, and the design philosophies at the heart of the tradition. Over the entire summer I assisted in all phases from site prep and excavation to final placement of stone, plants, architecture and ornaments.
This apprenticeship served as a springboard for me to design and build water and rock features for a handful of enthusiastic clients part time until 2015. For the last three years I've created several gardens, inside and out, under the name M-scape Design. Becoming Twin Dragon Studio and Landscape was part of my response to emerging themes and directions in my art and practices. I continue to study the masters by amassing a library of technical, philosophical, and visual resources, some of which I can't read.
My professional life began with degrees in history and in natural resources management, followed by working as an interpretive naturalist and environmental educator for many years. I gained an intimate knowledge and understanding of diverse natural landscapes. Creating a garden requires the skill to recognize the essence of an inspiring locale; the art lies in representing it in a space the size of a yard.
I added a degree in English and Creative Writing in 2004, and then found myself embarking on a career as an exhibit developer and designer for nature centers and museums. I went to graduate school for Cultural Heritage Studies and Museum Studies. Shifting sands in the economy led me to design and build sets for commercial photography and television. And now I sculpt earth to nestle boulders in such a way that they seem to communicate with one another, as if they've always been there, speaking...
In 2015 an architect and a landscape architect from Changsha, China, toured a Chinese-style pond garden I was building. Afterwards, they said, "To build mountains, one must have mountains in his heart. You have mountains in your heart." I accepted this compliment deeply as a lifelong student of nature. And as a student of Japanese and Chinese landscape arts since 2004, I accepted this nod toward my efforts to understand and practice a multifacted set of arts and poetic philosophy with roots in ancient Taoist and Buddhist traditions.
I love sculpting earth and transforming a pile of curated boulders and trees into a naturalistic and transcendent space. My work is inherently emergent, working within the limits and possibilities of available material and space. From a general plan comes the organic assembly of a puzzle to which there is no guiding picture, no box lid - only impressions in my mind of a possible natural philosopy informing the "genius of a place" as well as drawing from it. Sometimes boulders "find me" or suggest a personality - human, animal, or otherwise, thus informing and enriching the story barely hidden in the landscape.
Based on personal studies of compelling places and natural features, I began to understand these landscape-wide artworks to be four-dimensional, fractal microcosms of a universal order, known though personal interface with the world and from the teachings of the masters. The interplay of yin/yang and the five elements permeate the composition at multiple levels. Change is embraced and integrated into such gardens where a few boulders represent towering mountains cut by a roaring river inches wide. Horsetail (Equisetum) becomes a bamboo forest climbing the hill and clacking in the autumn wind. There's no need to squint hard to imagine an 8-foot high stack of boulders to be 80 or 800 feet high.
The works also inhabit another emergent existence found in the interaction of the observer as a participant in making meaning. Chinese and Japanese gardens are intentionally rich with traditional motifs, symbols, and calligraphy. These gardens exist as landscape poems and paintings, unscrolled as the viewer wanders, reading the landscape. I sculpt spaces into rooms with multiple views inward and out as intentional as framed paintings, one after the other, as the visitor moves and is moved by the space. A landing invites the viewer to pause, look up from her feet, and behold a composed view that reveals more of the story.
My garden art interprets this heritage and emerges rich in traditional and personal meaning, both for me and the client. Each garden is beautiful in its singularity, its otherworldliness, with its own narrative logic. Magic is illusion, an artist's stock in trade. However, mystical transcendence is also an emergent quality of the garden felt during auspicious moments, like a pattern lifting out of chaos as if on spirited wings, ineffable yet palpable in the heart and the nape of the neck.