By Eric Herman
Occasionally, we run pairs or sets of articles that seem to have nothing in common at first glance, but that actually, on closer examination, harmonize in unexpected and important ways. To be sure, we quite deliberately revisit key themes throughout the pages of all of our issues, but sometimes, it seems, the most powerful music emerges all on its own.
That’s the case in this issue with two of our features, “Classic Persuasions” by Mark Holden (click here) and “Public Interests” by Ross Miller (click here).
Beyond the fact that they’re both big pictorials, these articles would seem to have little in common: For starters, Holden and Miller don’t know each other and live and work on opposite sides of the country. This is Ross’ first article in WaterShapes; for Mark, it’s his ninth. Holden’s project is residential, while Miller’s are commercial. Holden’s work involves the creation of a complete exterior environment for one wealthy client, contrasting sharply with Miller’s projects, which are singular works of public art made for mass consumption.
So what’s the connection?
Well, in both cases, we see highly innovative watershapers using the influence of history to drive their creative processes. They do so in artfully different ways, but the thought processes they pursue provide us with splendid examples of how a close appreciation and understanding of history can be used to forge important and intimate connections between works of art, their settings and the perceptions of those who visit and absorb impressions of the spaces that have been created.
In Holden’s case, he uses his extensive study of the early-20th-century Spanish Colonial architecture found in pockets around southern California to fuel literally hundreds of details in a sprawling Bel Air estate. From the “distressed” finishes on pottery, walls and architectural woodwork of the home’s patios, verandas, courtyards and balconies to his keen use of mature plantings and salvaged hardscape materials to convey the appearance of ages gone by, Mark shows over and over again how beautiful and intriguing landscapes and watershapes can be when rendered with period authenticity uppermost in mind.
For his part, Miller uses history to similarly grand effect, but in a wholly different way. As he explains in detail, he creates works of public art that draw people in with the literal and attractive use of water, but sets the experience up in the context of symbols and imagery that reflect the specific history and geography of the community and its surroundings to add meaning to his monuments. His watershapes and their historical theming connect the present with the past in fascinating ways and reward passersby on multiple levels.
In both cases, we encounter ambitious, thoughtful designers who deliberately and painstakingly add layers of meaning and aesthetic quality to their work through a sense of history and sensitivity to the environments in which they work. To be sure, they are working in vastly different settings with wildly diverse goals, but they are linked in seeking to use the past to forge connections to the present and future.
Ultimately, when you take the time to explore the creative processes pursued by innovative watershapers such as Miller and Holden (not to mention dozens of others who’ve shared their work on our pages), it only stands to reason that the power of the ideas they employ will reveal themselves – and sometimes in surprisingly harmonious ways.