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"A Place to Take Root: The History of Flower Pots and Garden Containers in America"
2004-08-14 until 2004-09-18
College of the Atlantic, Blum Gallery
Bar Harbor, ME, USA United States of America

"A Place to Take Root: The History of Flower Pots and Garden Containers in America," possibly the first exhibition to document the history of flower pots, will be presented at College of the Atlantic this month.Flower pots have had a checkered history in the minds of the gardener. Often taken for granted, seldom, if ever, has the fact of the pot itself been studied-until now. And yet the story of the flower pot is that of the development of horticulture. To grow an exotic like an orange tree in Britain, to sprout rare seeds and to root the stems of living plants to produce offspring identical to the parent, gardeners needed a way to control the tender new plant's immediate environment.

In the same way Linnaeus was organizing the plant kingdom to fit a scientific system, flower pot forms were designed to "work" for horticulturists with ever greater efficiency. Individualized terra cotta items such as seed pans, graduated pots and saucers, orchid pans, multi-perforated pots and forcing pots were utilized by horticulturalists to aid a plant's growth at each stage of development. Pots were specifically designed to fit the plant's root system: tall "long toms" were made for plants with long tap roots, while diminutive thimbles gave new seedlings their first individual homes.

The Maine connection to pots, says exhibit co-curator Susan Lerner, director of the Blum Gallery, "follows the extraordinary tradition of Maine gardening in the early 20th century. People coming to Mount Desert Island were enthralled with the wild beauty of the sea, mountains and forest. As they built their 'cottages,' they sought not only to make beautiful gardens, but to reference the classical traditions of Europe."

Beatrix Farrand, the great landscape designer of that era, frequently referenced European themes in her gardens. She was aided in this by her discovery of Swedish-born Eric Soderholtz, an architectural photographer and draftsman from Boston who settled in West Gouldsboro. Like Farrand, Soderholtz had studied the classical forms of Mediterranean design. In Maine, he was able to create a formula for pots made out of reinforced concrete that could withstand the severe Maine winters. Continues Lerner, "Through Soderholtz's large pots and urns, Farrand brought to her designs a gracious human presence that also recalled the classical gardens of Europe."

Often working with Farrand, Soderholtz's poised and sturdy pots found homes in estates along the east coast, from Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., to the private estates she designed on Mount Desert Island. Today his pots are extremely desirable, and his innovative techniques and classic forms have inspired another generation of hand crafted garden pot creators in Maine, at Sullivan's Lunaform (whose co-owner, Dan Farrenkopf, was a 1993 graduate of COA). Here, says Lerner, "innovative craftsmen take the pot into new iterations. What's extraordinary is that this show, which starts off in Egypt, has such deep connections to us in Maine."

"A Place to Take Root" will show more than 50 works, from classic Tuscan terra cotta urns to British 18th century horticulture ware, seldom-seen works by Soderholtz and contemporary concrete planters by Lunaform. Drawings, photographs, letters and other artifacts will be included in the exhibition along with accompanying text written by garden historian Susan Tamulevich and landscape architect Patrick Chasse.

Several pots are facsimiles of 17th to 19th century American designs created by Guy Wolff of New Preston, CT, who recreated the most popular 19th century American pot for this exhibit, a stoneware flower pot with saucer attached, which became the style at that time because the availability of relatively inexpensive commercial glass created a rage for glass houses, or orangeries. Flower pots were the containers for the plants grown inside. Says Wolff, "It's difficult to believe these pots-especially the American pots-have been so long neglected. They're beautiful, sculptural objects. Each pot has clues that tell you where the potter came from, what generation American he was, and where he was working."

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