In Search of the Sarabande

Sign for the 4th section of The Music Garden
I ended my recent trip to the Society of North American Goldsmiths conference, held this year in Toronto, with an unusual pilgrimage to a place I'd never seen but which has inspired a whole body of artwork that continues to twist and unwind through just about everything I make.  After a stellar conference that helped me remember why I do I what I do, I was rewarded in my quest with pure serenity a few feet away from crush of construction and big city life.

Back in the late 90's I saw a PBS documentary on what would eventually become The Toronto Music Garden, a collaboration between cellist Yo Yo Ma and landscape architect Julie Moir Messervy, inspired Bach's Suite #1 in G Major for Unaccompanied Cello.  If paradise has a soundtrack, Bach wins a slot for this suite, and in this small section of Toronto's harborfront Ma and Messervy have brought paradise to Earth.

Tulips in another section of the garden

Each dance movement in the suite corresponds to a section of the garden.  When I saw the documentary that ran from idea to almost inception I was completely taken with with the Sarabande's section of the garden.  The music of this movement is based on an ancient Spanish dance.  The concept for the garden section was a contemplative "poet's corner" that involved (yes, you might have guessed seeing my work) an inward spiral.  Surrounded by conifers and deep red Japanese maple trees, the garden room evokes both a sense of deep introspection and continuous movement, which might describe most of the choreography I ever created back in the day.

The inward spiral and the double armed galaxy spiral are recurring themes throughout the 6 sections of the garden.  At the time I saw the PBS documentary I was fascinated with the Chartres labyrinth pattern and walked a canvas copy weekly near where I used to live.  I'd wanted to incorporate the pattern into my work and did a few times, but ultimately I wanted to capture the feel of the ins and outs in a more abstracted form.  The spiral that moved inward, circled back on itself, and came out into another shape was as perfect as Bach's Sarabande itself.

Undulation I
My recollection of the garden section design was completely enclosed from the outside, but I felt that only the delicacy and openness of Russian filigree would be right for my central dancing spiral.  I also wanted to create a larger piece that could be seen all at once yet wasn't flat, so I decided on a choker.  The first choker in the series was Undulation I.  The compound curves of  Russian filigree I employed to interpret the idea reminded me of water and morphed into the wave patterns of Undulation III and beyond in which I worked to evoke a similar feel of movement as the Japanese woodblock prints of Hokusai.
Undulation III

Sadly, the documentary ended with the loss of funding in the US city in which the garden was to be built just before they were ready to break ground.  Ma and Messervy were determined to find another city that would want their garden.  When I began investigating the ins and outs of traveling to Toronto for the SNAG conference, something on a map caught my eye, and I discovered that the garden had, after all, become real.

Toronto's harborfront is a wonderful area with lots of people, restaurants, exhibit spaces, and shops, and because there are two seasons in Toronto: winter and construction, lots of building and rerouted temporary walkways and roads.  After a 40 minute walk from the hotel I entered the garden from the end section and was immediately taken with the sense of quiet in a green space sandwiched between a busy street and the harbor sidewalk, bustling with natives, tourists, and strollers.  The second sign I came upon said, "#4 Sarabande."

The Sarabande section, taken from a path behind
I took a deep breath and started into the spiral.  After all this time and hundreds of intro-spirals moving back out of themselves that have come out of my hands, would I be disappointed at the reality of my impetus?  Would Bach have recognized in foliage and rock his ancient Spanish inspired dance?

I walked deeper in and came upon exquisite serenity.  After making my way in and part way back out, thinking how weird it was to walk the lines of my small scale artwork, I stepped back off the main path into a small connecting path between the ferns so I could view the section as a whole.  I'd had visions of sitting in there drawing and had lugged my sketchbook and watercolors the whole way, but the closest I could bear to taking my eyes away from the live beauty was to pull out my iPhone and take a few photos.

The center of the Sarabande section's spiral
Artwork can move us through many emotions and even through thousands of years, but as visual as we are, the stories behind artwork provide a context that links our humanity across time and space.  I was showing someone my metalwork soon after I completed Undulation I.  "Tell me about this piece," he asked.  When I began to explain that it was inspired by Bach's Cello Suite and the planned music garden based on the suite, the next question was, "Can you ship it to my house in a way that will help me keep it a surprise for my wife?"  That music turned out to be my new collector's favorite.
A windy day in the Courante section

The journey of Bach to Yo Yo Ma and Julie Moir Messervy to me was a long and highly abstracted one, yet something in this choker jumped out at him above the other 30 pieces I had with me that day. Perhaps the secret of art's endurance is that each piece holds its stories like a magic lamp in which the genie can be unleashed upon our intuitive recognition of what we perceive.

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