"if you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea..."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, from the Little Prince
Like most things wonderful and delicate, the Exquisite Garden started spontaneously. The year was 2009. The place was Donna Seager Gallery in Northern California. The idea, flash of brilliance, a-ha moment (it truly was all of these things at once) was when Joe Brubaker dedicated a third of the gallery to an installation of collaborative works by an assemblage of friends; some artists and others not, but people he knew would work well together and appreciate the experience.
We called it the "Wickerman Project", after the rather creepy sixties era movie. The centerpiece was a 7-foot tall sculpture of a figure made up of left over sculpture parts from Joe's studio in San Rafael.
This was the first the first collaborative project that Joe and his son, Will, had ever done together. After a few days of collaborative creativity and lots of rusty metal, scrap wood and cups of coffee, the installation was complete and it was amazing! This was the beginning of Joe's affinity for working with a group to produce rich, innovative, authentic installations. This was the beginning of the "Exquisite Gardeners".
And like a freshly planted seed, our loose coalition of creatives has flourished and grown. Together, we have managed to find a venue and the time to produce one installation a year incorporating more and more treasures collected over the preceding year. Each year the experience has become deeper, more profound and more addictive. Gardeners have come and gone, with new members invited to participate wherever we are installing the Garden.
The Gardeners find that our creative energy and inspiration lasts longer then the week we work on the Garden. It's a phenomenal experience, one that ebbs-and-flows with each individual planting roots in the project. It's actually quite hard to describe but the excerpt from the Little Prince, quoted above, gets close.
Joe Brubaker taught creativity, art and design for 20+ years in a career that included students in the 4th grade, to University students, to career changing adults. One constant that he noticed was that many times, the creative spirit seemed to deplete in students as they became older. Generally, the 4th grade students had a lot more creative juice than the average 20 or 30 or 40 year old student. So over the years, Joe became obsessed with creating experiences in the classroom that broke through the creative glass ceiling and engaged students of all ages in the phenomenon that is often called the "flow" of creative work. This is the experience every career artist or professional creative has in their studio or workshop...that experience of intense engagement with the creative endeavor, the experience of linear time going away in the interest of something more intense and significant. In designing these classroom experiences, Joe learned that the creative spirit needs to be nurtured, felt, and fed. Most of us understand the transformative effect of the creative spirit on our lives, but keeping it growing within us is often a challenge. The Exquisite Garden Projects are the fulmination of Joe's association with the elusive creative spirit, as an artist and an arts educator, and are group experiences that water the deep roots of creativity that we all have within us.
The Exquisite Garden Project installation can be indoors or out, a day long , or a week long. The materials are wood timbers and 2x4's, and a mind boggling array of cast away materials, known in the art world as "found objects" or "repurposed materials". Antecedents for these kinds of assemblages of disparate materials can be found world wide in art museums and the properties of a certain kind of obsessive collector. Joe Brubaker's early exposure to this creative phenomenon were Simon Rodia's Watts Towers in South Central Los Angeles. Rodia, a retired plumber, filled his residential property with an amazing construction of swirling towers colored with bits of broken pottery. The Exquisite Garden Project is sister to these kinds of all out creative phenomenons, which are often outside the boundaries of Art World description or acceptance. Joe describes the typical Exquisite Garden installation experience as "barn building without geometry, and art making without critiques".
The Exquisite Garden Project has evolved into several branches: Art Installation in Museums and Art Centers, on site art installations using available materials at outdoor locations, such as ranches or wineries, and workshop experiences where new Gardeners work with experienced Gardener Guides to create an installation in a contained space or outdoors. New Gardeners will find an environment of non- judgement, lots of wire, tape, rags, rope to assemble with and an encouragement to please engage in creative play. Non traditional materials help bypass any "art school" trauma that many speak of...the tyranny of the blank expensive canvas or sheet of drawing paper. In the Garden, rags become flowers, rope becomes a snake, and rusty metal becomes an altar.
Somehow, whether an experienced Exquisite Gardener or a "green" one, during the project, everyone experiences a reduced sense of time, a sense of boldness and adventure, with no issue or question too large or small to discuss. The spirit of collaboration tends to usher in a sense of ease regarding one's contributions to the Garden. At the end of the project, we will stand and look in awe of this huge, heroically scaled, shaggy work of art that both recedes and projects, that sparkles and shines, that is what it is for it's own sake and nothing else, like a three dimensional poem. All of us will have been infused with a creative jump-start, and will part ways to go tend our own Gardens, wherever they may be.