Sunday, October 30, 2011

Innisfree in October

In autumn, Innisfree Garden, so lush with blooms in spring and summer, begins to reveal its bones.  The stands of yellow flag have been cut down, the bed from which peonies once spilled out has been returned to bare ground.

The clematis are reduced to withering vines.  The lotus flowers are spent, their great pods dried out, their leaves curling to brown.

Our neighbor Leslie Land, a mistress of fine gardening in her own right, once observed about the Central Park Conservatory in New York City:
 . . . winter is indeed the test of great gardens.  You show us statuary in a muted gallery more flattering than flowers, and as for that allee... well, you can't beat structure and there it is, no matter how tired we all sometimes get of hearing about the importance of bones.
We won’t be able to see Innisfree Garden in winter, as it closes from mid-October until early May, but October offered a chance to see its peerless autumn display.

Innisfree’s first owners were Walter and Marion Beck.  Walter was an artist; Marion heiress to a mining fortune and owner of land in Dutchess County that included a forty acre glacial lake.

The Becks built a Queen-Anne-style mansion on the property and landscaped it, at least at first, in the style of a traditional English garden.  They named the garden Innisfree after the poem by W. B. Yeats.

That's not the end of the story, though.  Midway through the project (money clearly was no object), Walter Beck changed his mind and ripped the garden out.

For a year the Becks searched for an alternative approach, finally landing, again in England, on a book about the Wangchuan Villa, a grand garden in China that originally belonged to Tang dynasty poet and painter Wang Wei.

Over a period of twenty years, Beck created around the lake a “series of self-contained landscapes using natural elements” to which he gave the name “cup gardens.”

On examining the early painting career of Beck, there’s little to suggest his turn to this approach.  He painted in typical 19th century realist style, including several portraits of Civil War veterans.

One day, all that changed, when he "happened to spread some starch on a piece of wet blotting paper and followed this with a stroke of the brush charged with a tempera paint."

Of his discovery, he wrote,
To paint on wet starch is to eliminate friction and there is nothing to oppose the artist's flow of ideas or emotions... He does not think in dimensions or restrictions but is swayed by rhythms.
From that method, it was but a short step to the design of Innisfree.
Dormant within me lay all the imaginative world of thought, which came to light because of the starch-film medium.  Its spontaneity, its emphasis on stroke and the vision which it stimulated not only permitted me to paint as I have done, but also prepared me for the building of Innisfree garden. 
"As I write," he continued, "I look out of my window at the garden.
On a wall at the lake edge is a rock, which I call dragon rock; it is the key in a grouping of stones whose function is to hold in balance the lake and the nearby hills, whose function is to cope with the energies of the sky and the distant landscape.  I owe the development of the pictorial sense so essential in the placing of dragon rock to my work in the starch-film medium.

A slideshow of Innisfree Garden in mid-October:



For a Spotify Playlist, click on Innisfree in October.  A selection of words and music can also be found here:

Jonas Alaska channels Bob Dylan, live on God Morgen Norge, with his song October.

Enter a time warp with the Incredible String Band's October Song from 1966.

Amy Winehouse channels Sarah Vaughn in her own, rather different, October Song.

Rosemary Clooney and Nancy Wilson turn schmaltz into magic with their versions of Mercer/Manilow's When October Goes.

Read Poem in October by Dylan Thomas at Friko's Poetry and Pictures.

Last not least, here's Yeats, reading Lake Isle at Innisfree, including introductory remarks that should not be missed.

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To read more about Innisfree Garden, click here and here.

Credits:  The Beck quotations can be found here, citing as the original source Beck's 1942 book, Painting with Starch:  A Tempura Method.  The other quotations are from the sources linked in the post.  The sources for reproductions of the works of art can be found at these links: 

Handscroll detail, Wangchuan Villa, Wang Yuanqi

Map of the Peninsular Campaign, Walter Beck

Lyric Cadences, Series III, No. 18, Walter Beck

As is true for all photographs appearing on the blog that are not credited to others, the photographs of Innisfree Garden are mine.  The panoramic photograph below, however, was taken by J. Holford.  Click here and scroll down for another panoramic photograph of Innisfree (without the incongruous statuary).

16 comments:

David said...

Love the idea of the bones showing through. Evocative photos as ever. As I wrote Over There, I'm racking my brains to remember the name of the garden on the Hudson I visited with my New York pal John. We were stymied by a tremendous thunderstorm - first of many that persisted for the whole of that August weekend - but at least saw it forking and heard it crashing around from under the eaves of the house on the hill.

Suze said...

My dear Susan, there is much in this post to provide meet invisible meat to the lost, once lost, coming out of lostness.

First this:

'a mistress of fine gardening in her own right'

aperitif

Then:

'winter is indeed the test of great gardens. You show us statuary in a muted gallery more flattering than flowers, and as for that allee... well, you can't beat structure and there it is, no matter how tired we all sometimes get of hearing about the importance of bones.'

A surprising feast, almost too quick on the heels of the first bite but taken in with a heretofore undisturbed hunger, nevertheless.

Following:

'One day, all that changed, when he "happened to spread some starch on a piece of wet blotting paper and followed this with a stroke of the brush charged with a tempera paint." '

I feel my body hunching toward this dead screen alive with your gifts.

Moreover:

'To paint on wet starch is to eliminate friction and there is nothing to oppose the artist's flow of ideas or emotions... He does not think in dimensions or restrictions but is swayed by rhythms.'

My focus narrows and I grow. I enter into this landscape you have lovingly cultured on unleaden feet.

Continue:

'Dormant within me lay all the imaginative world of thought, which came to light because of the starch-film medium. Its spontaneity, its emphasis on stroke and the vision which it stimulated not only permitted me to paint as I have done, but also prepared me for the building of Innisfree garden.'


To say more is to say less.

Finally, Friko's homage to Thomas and the Incredible String Band.

Thank you.

Love,
-Suze

Maggie Asfahani Hajj said...

I will arise and go now...for some reason, that poem always brings tears to my eyes. I have loved Yeats for so long, and to think of that particular bit of verse while looking at these wonderful photos was a little overwhelming. And topped off with Amy Winehouse! What a wonderful, wonderful way for me to wind down my evening. Thank you.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Susan:
What an absolutely fascinating, indeed riveting, post about an extraordinary garden which is both informative and wonderfully illustrated. At this distance in time one does wonder about the enormous wealth which led to the creation of gardens such as Innisfree and on such a scale.

As is said here, we have always held to the belief that winter is the very best time to see the structure and bones of a garden.

Friko said...

Without a good bone structure a garden is no more than a collection of plants. Innisfree has it all, structure, imaginative planting and interesting displays for three seasons.

I wish I could see it. When a garden fits into the landscape as this one does, you know you are on to a winner. Money has obviously helped tremendously, but an understanding of plants and good taste and a painterly eye have done everything to stop money being wasted on ostentation.

shoreacres said...

Impossible to read this without thinking of Monet and Giverny. Monet himself once said,"Apart from painting and gardening, I’m not good at anything,”

Amusing self-deprecation aside, Monet knew what he was doing - in both worlds. Still, I feel a difference between the two gardens, a difference suggested in Beck's words about his new technique, its flow and rhythm.

Monet's garden at Giverny clearly was his palette - blocks of color carefully considered and constructed, laid out for use in his art. Inisfree, on the other hand, seems all brush and canvas, motion and impulse.

What a delight it would be to travel from one garden to another in a single season, testing the color and light in one, the motion and energy in the other.

Britta said...

Dear Susan,
thank you for that marvellous post - that is a garden which sends me into raptures! It must be on a very, very grand scale - and your pictures show how lovely it is! To change a garden one has created abruptly is very courageous - it shows that this man knew what he wanted! (Fascinating his new way to paint, too. Might try it). I love turning-points, so interesting!
The name of the garden is very alluring - I didn't forget it since you mentioned it the first time (and you are a technical wizz to get all those videos up at the side - thank you for that!)
Although today November starts, I will take again a deep plunge into October.
"Cup gardens" are a special idea - little 'rooms', I imagine, where garden projects change. The great Dame of gardening, Gertrude Jekyll, did that - in her way - too; she was also an artist (lost her sight, though not completely, but painting became a strain on her eyes). I always thought of gardening as painting something bigger than an amass of flowers and plants - and the Becks succeeded beautiful in that!
Why is the garden closed in winter? Why so long? I wait for you showing us the spring garden! Thank you again!

MILLY said...

Thank you for your comment. I knew exactly what you were talking about as I had read your Maine posting at the time, the poem of the tides, left a little comment. I could remember your photographs beautifully capturing this area.
This post took me back to school, all the class reciting Innisfree, as I listened to your link of Yeats himself reading it. Again an interesting post, artists and gardens, both influencing each other. You have a great eye for a picture and write so eloquently, passing on your found knowledge. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

No bones about it,

Within this shower of wonderful images from Innisfree, one stands out, particularly in light of the recent October snow storm. It is that of the leaves on Water Lilly water. There are no bones here, just air and light on water, through water air and light. The green of a summer nearly gone, dappled with autumnal chromes to come caught on the blue warp of a Buddhist sky. It is about as close as one can get to the Zen spirit Beck intended to reference, almost unmediated by the multiple hands of others whose intent or hired charge was to arrange nature, naturally, in manmade ways. Your image reads as a Haiku, or a cat or heron caught midway between stalk and repose.

Yesterday in my yard with chainsaw in hand that image came back time and again as I worked to unravel the damage of the storm and was struck and stopped by the random array of newly fallen leaves on snow. Today I'll burn one pile of Magnolia, Viburnum, and Maple slash, the fire safely controlled by the foot of snow still on the ground, and with luck the breezes will carry the smoke over the still green hill back to Innisfree.

But I talk too much. Words are cheap. Work needs doing. Fish are running in the sea.

If you want to see Innisfree in winter, just park your car at the Rockefeller lot and walk up the road and around the gate. Better wait 'till hunting season ends. The other way in is via the very end of Pond Gut.

Bill

Mark Kerstetter said...

I appreciate that you staggered the photos left and right; the page is lovely that way and blogger can be finicky when you ask it to do that. Love your photos.

wordconnections said...

Thanks for your history and vivid descriptions of this American Innisfree. I sent a link to your post to my sister, who lives in Westchester County

Susan Scheid said...

David: So glad you enjoyed the photographs—it was fun to take them, and even more fun to be able to share them! For all who are wondering, as I wrote to you “Over There,” and you confirmed, the place you were referring to was Frederic Edwin Church’s Olana, and a beautiful place it is indeed.

Suze: I love the way you traveled through this post and am so glad you chose to recount your own journey through it here, finally landing on Friko’s Dylan Thomas selection and The Incredible String Band (so glad you spotted and enjoyed both of those).

Maggie: I remember the first time I posted on Innisfree you remarking that Yeats’ poem was a favorite of yours—and with good reason (who could not fall in love with his “bee-loud glade”)! Winehouse’s October Song is quite the thing, isn’t it? I wasn’t familiar with it (I know, another vast gap in my musical education) until I searched for music to accompany the post.

Jane and Lance: So pleased you enjoyed this post! I learned quite a bit about the garden I didn’t know—the back story of the garden ended up being quite fascinating.

Friko: I hope you will have a chance to see Innisfree someday. In the meanwhile, I’m pleased to have a little chance to return the favor you’ve confer with your posts about your own gorgeous garden by at least providing a photographic glimpse. How right you are about the importance of a painterly eye and fitting the garden into its landscape, both of which are abundantly in evidence here.

shoreacres: I’ve not had a chance to see Giverny, but hope I will someday. You paint a beautiful picture in words for us all contrasting the two gardens. It would be wonderful to see both in the same season and observe directly each artist’s choices expressed in nature’s materials.

Britta: Special thanks go to you for requesting that I write a post about Innisfree. I learned many fascinating things about its creation, as you’ve seen. I was particularly taken with what happened to Beck’s art when he came upon his starch-tempura technique. If you do dabble in that, I hope you’ll post a result or two for us to see! I will try to put together another post about Innisfree in the Spring.

Milly: Oh, yes, I do remember you’d commented on the Maine post! I’m so glad you stopped by and enjoyed this one, too. You give us such pleasure with your beautiful drawings and photographs of your surroundings, it’s a pleasure to be able now and then to return the favor in some small way.

Bill: Well, of course you would know a way in to Innisfree in winter, wouldn’t you? It would be fun to take a peak in winter, though at the moment, as we noted to one another the other day, all we want right now is for this way-too-early snow to melt. Thankfully, it’s almost gone. I’m please you liked the water lilies photograph. I did feel, too, that expressed something particular of what Beck intended.

Mark: Ah, pleased I am that you took note of the staggered photographs. You are right, blogger doesn’t always like them, but it does provide a bit more interesting look on the page, so I persevere. I’m glad you enjoyed the result!

wordconnections: I love that you shared this with your sister in Westchester County. I hope she’s able to come to Innisfree for a visit (if she hasn’t already). To all readers, wordconnections has beautiful photographs of wildflowers. Always a feast for the eye.

The Solitary Walker said...

This is all quite lovely. And I adore that Yeats poem. It was one of the first poems I ever learnt by heart. If you have that poem in your heart, it's such a comfort and relief - you always have a mental means of escape.

Susan Scheid said...

SW: Thank you for stopping by. I agree on the Yeats poem (interesting to think this is the same poet who, at other times, had us turning and turning in the widening gyre).

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susan .. what a wonderful post - about the Becks .. who encompassed a very interesting period of history .. fascinating to read; beautiful photos and I loved the slide show ...

I need to spend more time here - lots of it ...

The Yeats poem is beautiful .. I'll read it to the residents next week ..

Many thanks .. so much incredible information here .. love it .. Hilary

Susan Scheid said...

Hilary: I love to think of you reading that poem aloud to the residents. So pleased you enjoyed the post!

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