Friday, September 17, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D

It all began when “Jimmy went crazy,” as Nancy De Blois describes it. To be sure, there was a garden in their backyard before Jimmy took leave of his senses. It was un jardin ordinaire, unconventional, mind you, a haphazard affair, just what one might expect from a differently wired couple. You see, Jimmy’s a well-known musician and performance artist, and Nancy, just as well-known, is an artist who fashions eye-catching mannequins and creates intricate luminaries, those lanterns designed to beckon a visit from the Christ Child at Christmas. To be sure, there were tomatoes and flowers, a circle with chairs and a table, and various things hanging from the limbs of old trees, but nothing to mark it as un jardin extraorinaire.

That is until Jimmy had his vision. It was no grand design accompanied by fiat, “let it be done,” but a vision evolving from looking at fifteen foot high metal leaf. From that a garden began to unfold, an evolution in which one thing led to another as though it were a garden fashioned without adult supervision.

Before we proceed much further, we have to understand that Jimmy and Nancy, as grassroots sustainers and renewers, create out of that which other people have cast-off and rejected, the new out of the old. With the exception of one or two items, everything else in their backyard is either a throw-away or a reject.

They had picked up the begetting leaf at ERIC’S. Now, don’t ask why they would buy a rusty fifteen foot steel leaf. That would require a study into the whirly-gig minds of people who’ve tipped over from conventionality into creativity. At any rate, it was leaning against the trunk on an elm tree when he awakened out of his dogmatic slumbers to creatio ex purgamentum (create out of cast-offs.) He set about removing the rust after which Nancy painted in the veins, and then he attached a Noah’s Ark of refrigerator magnets of various creatures both great and small with sharks at the base. Setting in his “garden theater” are figures of deer from Las Vegas, masks, female figures topped with military helmets, and pots and plants.

Once he had fashioned his masterpiece, he had to create a fetching path from the front yard to the back which he lined in ground with old-fashioned glass insulators from a telephone line which had been strung from Seligman to Lake Catherine, California, in 1929.

As the path rounds the corner into the backyard, it bifurcates into a short path that leads into a delightful, covered patio with chairs, table, and fire pit, surrounded by a low wall topped with containers of flowers and vegetables. These are largely Nancy’s doing. At the divergence are large containers of various types of tomatoes on some kind of jerry-rigged irrigation and fertilization system.

The other path, “less traveled by,” leads to Nancy’s studio past a huge dead tree trunk about twelve feet high with a mannequin perched in the tree’s crook. The dead tree trunk marks a point of privacy beyond which is the door into Nancy’s studio on the one side of the path and a large flower bed on the other. Nancy often sits outside the door creating her intricately beautiful luminaries out of discarded tin cans of various shapes and sizes while listening to classical music. Listening to a Strauss waltz, she felt she was dancing with the asters and cosmos as they swayed to the wind.

Her studio is a wonderland of mannequins, all shapes and sizes, all sexual persuasions, in various states of repair and renewal. Nancy is one of a select group of artists who repair and renew mannequins.

Jimmy’s favorite haunt is the patio where he can play his classical guitar while watching the ants scurry along the patio’s floor made of tiles from a closed-out retailer.

Not only are Jimmy and Nancy beguiling artists and conscientious custodians of the earth, they are also custodians of people. Nancy recently gave a kidney to her sister.

As Paul Jones, the city planner and educator, said, “This is the most creative garden in Flagstaff,” un jardin extraordinaire.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

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