Kris Sader’s Installation at the University Of Maine Lyle Littlefield Ornamentals Garden
A winter garden: a garden whose plants serve as decoration all winter.
I have been a lifelong gardener and my gardens have always been a sanctuary for me. They are my science labs, art palettes for color and shape, and even provide raw materials for my papermaking. When I heard about a recent winter garden installation created by Kris Sader, I had to investigate. Very few gardeners in Maine think of it as a winter activity, so I was excited to visit the site specific installation in the Lyle Littlefield Ornamentals Garden in Orono.
Kris’s formal training in science as well as art influenced her educational, detailed, and creative approach in showcasing the gardens. Her six year project started in 2012 with a proposal to the garden Director, Brad Libby.
In 2013 Kris began by gathering botanical evidence from the garden’s forest floor, wrapping these natural found objects in wool, and burying them on site, September through April, to capture the winter months. The goal was to create “memory” of the environment etched into the fabric. Underground, the leaves, fruits, seeds, and surrounding earth worked with actinobacteria to produce delicate patterns and soft, warm colors in the wool. Kris explained that she wanted to “dress the garden in what the garden itself had made”.
Construction of the garments began in 2015. Antique wool thread from Maine mills stitched throughout the cloth imitated the biological structure of the bacterial development. Seeds and twigs were used to create carved and sewn buttons. Small copper plates were etched with seed patterns specific to this location.
On the day of the reception, I walked the paths and encountered whimsical and beautiful garments thoughtfully provided for their recipients. A large Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) was draped with a sundress whose skirts rose from the muscled trunk. The tree limbs reached up and outward from the dress in a celebratory, reaching-for-the-sky gesture. An intricate pocketbook, stuffed with a copper seed plate and thorns from the nearby honey locust (Gleditsia tiricanthos), hung from the limb of a Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora). A row of tall, straight ash wore a striated pattern of yellow and white stitched cuffs representing their admiration for and relationship to the nearby birches. The tall honey locust celebrated its individuality by wearing a medallion wrap-around skirt. With a variety of techniques, including smocking, the skirt displayed a highly decorative sampler of stitching. The medallion shapes imitated badges on uniforms. Low to the ground, a monarch birch wore a mini skirt stitched with dark threads. Along the path’s edge, viewers encountered a large triangular rock wearing its more formal double breasted jacket, with copper, textile thread, bark and thorns of the honey locust. Even the warming cabin was festooned with bright curtains printed with seed patterns. Visitors at the reception ate grilled sausages and drank hot cider, “in the Maine way”, Kris explained. I noticed a young child with her mother enjoying the artist talk as we walked the paths – perhaps taking away a memory which will forever provide them with a different perspective of the natural world.
“Winter Garden” was a whimsical, detailed, and celebratory installation inviting the viewer to connect with, reflect upon, and admire a seasonally different perspective of a garden. Kris writes in her artist statement, “I like the idea of folks coming upon it while they are out and about.” She wants to “expand the idea of what art is, bring art out of the studio, gallery and museums.”
A possible future showing of the Winter Garden garments is scheduled for June of 2019. Contact Lyle Littlefield Gardens, University of Maine for more information: 207-581-3112.