Buffalo Garden DIY garden art Video

Garden Variety Louise Nevelson Sculpture

A garden wall with fountains and repurposed garden stuff

A garden wall sculpture with fountains and garden materials.

Big Black, Louise Nevelson, 1963

Every year I do a new project in the garden. It’s the sort of thing that keeps me awake nights, all winter long. This year it was something I’ve had in my head for a long time – a garden wall sculpture inspired by artist Louise Nevelson.

I’ve always admired her work, she made graphically interesting and textural walls of wood scraps, including molding, dowels, and spindles. She then painted them black, uniting them visually. Her sculptures feature straight lines accentuated with curves, overlaps, and vacancies. That was sort of my hope going into this. What you see that I have done is a first pass. I plan to keep adding to it over time, eventually adding a frame (as much as anything else, to protect it from the weather).

Raw materials

Junk & crap.

I started collecting (or my wife would say I always collected) old and unused garden tools – a hand rake not being used, a kid’s rake, a broken this, a broken that.

Then I started collecting odds and ends – some short, carved wooden poles my brother found in the garage of a house he bought to rent; lattice left over form past projects; old rain gutters left in the garage when we moved in; bamboo stakes from the bamboo we used to grow; pickets from the fence that used to run around the property; a neighbor’s left-over lath from a home remodel; mirrors; old lamps; a plant trivet; old water buckets; left-over tiles; and more.

Scrap & crap.

There’s also a few garden tchotchkes that have been looking for a home in the garden – like a small gnome and a pink (now black) flamingo. I was also give a couple old rustic hand tools by friends Kathy & Mike Shadrack – an old shovel, sheep shears, and a hand rake. Mike Shadrack also provided the aforementioned tchotchkes (not Kathy!), so I feel as though he’s responsible for some of the wall, at least the tchotchke-est part.


The plan, as is the case for almost everything I create in the garden, is to have it cost as little as possible (or nothing!). I did have to shell out for the pressure-treated plywood panels, and plenty of black spray paint.

I didn’t want this to actually be built on the fence. In the future, many years from now, we’ll want to sell the house. This is a garden for people with very specific (peculiar?) tastes, and many of my projects are to satisfy my creative itch and eye. I fully am prepared to deconstruct this when the time comes, years down the road.

I did consider painting it all green, being a garden-y thing and all, but decided flat, monochromatic black invited more curiosity. A green might come off trite and expected. Besides, black is thinning.

It’s all about that base…
The hoses for fountains easily snake up the back of the plywood.
Much of it was made up as I went along, with the supplies I had – impromptu and spontaneous.

The Fountains

I knew I wanted to add a fountain feature to it. One wasn’t good enough, so I added two. I have five fountains already in my small garden. My goal has always been to add seven. The only place I have for more fountains now is either on my deck, or my front yard. These are things that will keep me awake this coming winter.

The one I knew I was going to do from the beginning was the hand-trowel-and watering-can-fountain. I’d reserved the buckets and tools for this purpose. It was easy, once I got everything lined up just right. It still does need adjusting almost every time the fountain gets turned on. It’s easily adjustable though. I had an extra watering can to incorporate, but there just wasn’t room for it. It may end up elsewhere.

I wanted the entire sculpture to be three dimensional. The second fountain I knew I wanted a wine bottle to spill water into it birdbath. The birdbath is actually an old Ikea glass pendant lamp shade, turned upside down.

My original plan, and I will do it eventually, is to make this wine-spilling water empty into a pivoting cylinder to empty into the birdbath – while making a clanking sound once it empties and resets. They’re called shishi odoshi or “deer scare-er” water fountains, usually made of bamboo. I’ll make that happen eventually.

It’s now ready for tours. Our Open Gardens on Thursdays and Fridays in July started a couple weeks ago, while the wall was in progress. I just didn’t give myself enough time to have it done for the first two weeks. Now it is more presentable but…

It will never be done

I’ll always add to it over time. I already see some things to be added. It’s a 12′ wide by 3′ tall space, so there’s room for even the smallest items to be tucked in there. Someplace.

I’ve already added two planters – they were formerly canister lights from a track light, turned upside down. I added a sedum to one and sweet Jenny to another. I also added a clay bird feeder. And I have a wind chime that might look good in black…

It’s just too difficult to photograph, being so wide and so black. It presents best in video form!

7 comments on “Garden Variety Louise Nevelson Sculpture

  1. kathy kinan

    fabulous fabulous fabulous!!!


  2. WOW!!! I love this water art you’ve made Jim!!!
    Cheers to you!


  3. The things that keep you awake at night in winter are not the things that keep me awake. I’m usually writing stuff in my head. I have a box of rusted metal stuff I’ve found in my dirt, generally related to old-time agriculture: several horseshoes, some hinges, a lot of nails, etc. I keep hoping inspiration will strike and I’ll know what to do with it. It took me a while to realize the diamond and the lattice were backed by mirrors. Do you need a special kind of mirror to use outdoors or will any old mirror do?


    • It’s no special mirror. I’ve had it kicking around for a few years with no home. All the mirrors I’ve used in the garden are just ordinary household mirrors. It’s any frame on them that is more likely to rot or be damaged.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s pretty darn impressive, Jim! I look forward to seeing what you come up with next.


  5. cooperyounggardenclub

    Loved reading about your thought process toward this project and then seeing pictures of how you constructed it……So inspiring! Hope to see it on a future Buffalo Garden Walk Tour.


  6. Pingback: A garden post post

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