How-to

How to: Make your own kinetic garden art

“Big Dialogue,” a seated mobile by Colorado kinetics artist Robert Delaney, was a private commission for a large private garden on the grounds of a midcentury-modern residence. (http://www.robertdelaneyarts.com)

“Big Dialogue,” a seated mobile by Colorado kinetics artist Robert Delaney, was a private commission for a large private garden on the grounds of a mid-century modern residence. (http://www.robertdelaneyarts.com)

 

By Elana Ashanti Jefferson

Each sensory detail in the garden, from a fuzzy stem to a fresh water droplet, is amplified by the addition of an artful, man-made accent.

Sure, gardeners can place yet another jeweled stepping stone among the greenery or stab a glittery metal bug on a stick into the dirt. But garden art is doubly engaging and effective when it employs wind, water or light. And few can resist a piece of kinetic art emits sound.

Why put art in the garden?

“Works of art (in gardens and parks) interact with surrounding landscapes, playing off of their character, colors and makeup; in many cases the boundary between the works and their setting is blurred,” author Francesca Cigola writes in her new book “Art Parks: A tour of America’s Sculpture Parks and Gardens (Princeton Architectural Press, 2013).

Kinetic art — or art that moves including pinwheels, pendants, flags, chimes and mobiles — is especially well-suited to gardens because like plants, it responds to and enhances the setting.

In a garden, kinetic art “adds to a sense of discovery” says installation artist Lonnie Hanzon (lonniehanzon.com), best known for conceiving over-the-top holiday window displays at the Nieman Marcus headquarters in Dallas. Noise abatement and critter control are additional benefits to installing moving garden art, Hanzon adds.

Do-it-yourselfers can easily construct their own kinetic garden art, making it as elementary or high-concept as they like. Most anything goes when it comes to kinetics, and since things that move are bound to break eventually, there’s no reason to take your kinetic sculpture too seriously.

Build it and when it breaks, simply reconfigure or recycle the materials.

“Snapdragon” is a piece of outdoor kinetic art created Colorado artist John King and installed at Cornerstone Park in  Englewood. (Photo courtesy of South Suburban Parks and Recreation)

“Snapdragon” is a piece of outdoor kinetic art created Colorado artist John King and installed at Cornerstone Park in Englewood. (Photo courtesy of South Suburban Parks and Recreation)

First, inspiration from the masters: Piet Mondrian and the more contemporary Alexander Calder’s oft-imitated mobiles are series of balanced metal fins and spheres. Robert Mangold’s outdoor pieces, on the other hand, can look like vivid spinning dandelions.

“Just get an idea that you like and go for it,” suggests Colorado mobile artist Robert Delaney (robertdelaneyarts.com). His very first kinetic contraption was pieced together in the eighth grade, a rubber band wind-up guillotine thingy inspired by the classic board game Mouse Trap. By high school, Delaney was constructing balancing creations with rods and Styrofoam balls.

Kinetic art DIYers need only select sturdy materials, like metal or wood. Natural materials certainly make sense in the garden.

Take one student’s wood chimes hanging in a display case near the fine arts department at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where Robert Mangold coincidentally taught for three decades. It is rows of driftwood smoothed and formed into biscotti shapes that are wired together like a chandelier. It really should be outdoors; to look at the piece is to want for wind and the gentle drumming sound of wood beads bumping up against each other.

That student’s ambitious wood chimes illustrate how making a kinetic piece can be done with simple tools and hardware. Ball bearings are particularly handy for moving art.

“If it doesn’t work, learn from your mistake,” says Delaney, whose abstract art mobiles are installed in corporate offices and private residences nationwide. “That’s what makes it fun… Having an aesthetic approach makes it art.”

 

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Elana Jefferson

About Elana Jefferson

Raised in the American West and polished in the Ivy League, Elana Ashanti Jefferson is an award-winning communications professional with a forte for telling stories about popular culture, fine arts and nesting. She began teaching at Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2011.

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