Monday, February 20, 2012

The Bow and Hairpin

The Vista in Warren has a distinctive quality that the local population holds in reverence. In contrast to Old Bisbee’s steep narrow winding roads lined by Victorian homes and miner’s shacks, The Vista is a sweeping wide avenue showcasing California style bungalows. The Lavender Jeep’s “Greater Bisbee Tour” passes our home on their way to the grander historical registered homes in the neighborhood.

My first visit to The Vista was on a self-guided tour. The Craftsman homes in various states of preservation, the tree lined avenue and the central park gave me the impression that something grand was once attempted in what was then nearly a ghost town. I have since lovingly coined a nickname for The Vista as the “faded diva”. Nonetheless, The Vista is a highly regarded location for real estate. In recent years, it has been experiencing a revival of sorts and is returning back to its original function as a popular destination for community activities such as the farmer’s market and the ballpark.

Before I knew anything about the Arts and Crafts movement, I sensed that there was something magical about the Craftsman home. I had always dreamed of calling one my home. I came upon this list of Arts & Crafts values by Ken Lonsinger that explains concisely the philosophy of the movement and the influence behind the designs of the Craftsman bungalow.

A&C (Arts & Crafts) philosophy focused on "revolution through art," its principles were formed by a set a great overarching values:
  • Find joy in work
  • Create objects that are not only well-designed, but affordable to everyone
  • Live simply
  • Stay connected to nature
  • Maintain integrity of "place"

1913 Spokane, Washington

The Craftsman bungalow was specifically designed to realize the American dream. The architects provided a design to be affordable for the working class. The story of my great-grandfather, the son of German/Alsace immigrants is a good example. This 1913 photograph shows the Craftsman home where my grandmother was born. Her father, George Washington Seyforth, suffered the loss of his father at the age of 4 and then his mother by the age of 8. Although the oldest brothers and sisters took care of the youngest children, all of the children were expected to work on the family farm. This responsibility limited George’s education. Although farmers were seriously struggling in the 1890s, the oldest brother in the family was able to purchase the family farm from his 9 younger siblings. Later, the 5 youngest members of the family, including George, used their small inheritance to go west to take advantage of the job opportunities resulting from the Klondike gold rush. No doubt, George’s experience on the family farm helped him secure employment as a teamster for one of the many hardware stores in Spokane. George eventually moved into a clerk position at one of the largest hardware businesses. At the age of 36, after saving his earnings and making incremental investments in real estate, George Seyforth, along with a new family was able to be the proud homeowner of this beautiful Craftsman bungalow located in a newly created suburb.

It is now 2012 and I’m in the process of redesigning the landscape for a 1920 Craftsman duplex turned single family home. Given that I was unable to nail down any particular style of landscaping connected with the Arts & Crafts movement, my attention turned to the landscape philosophy and the trends set by homeowners during the period. I discovered that the early 20th century landscape designers introduced the idea of incorporating native species within natural arrangements in reaction to the Victorian formal designs that symbolized their wealth. These progressive landscape designers felt it was important to restore nature back into the city and to provide the residents a relief from the stress of the industrial culture. It is humbling to realize that the idea of getting back to nature is not as recent as I thought. Referring to my memory of Craftsman homes in California, it was common practice to have an ample lawn, sculpted hedges and at least one signature tree. Does this mean that the average homeowner dismissed the progressive native landscape idea and preferred a simplified version of the Victorian design instead? Although I don’t know why homeowners tended to not follow the wisdom of using native species in landscaping, I have noticed that in more recent times, landscapes for California bungalows are moving toward the earlier progressive idea. One example is the practice of xeriscaping. During my visits to San Diego I have observed the popularity of lovely xeriscape designs. In fact, I discovered another person who is working on a similar landscaping project in San Diego. Amy Burkhart's blog post Jan. 2011 "Xeriscape Idea Gathering" illustrates examples where xeriscaping is used for Craftsman homes in North Park, San Diego.

With the basic Arts & Crafts principles in mind, I set out to analyze the character of our home and the land on which it resides. The straight lines that dominate the property divide our yard into sections. Those lines continue by following up the large posts supporting the roof, and then run across the roofline. In contrast, sweeping curved arches connecting each post (hidden behind the slope of the roof) and curved lines in the wrought iron fence soften the linear design.

The property is located at the basin at the end of the Mule Mountains. The Mule Tails skyline cuts diagonally transitioning into gentle rolling hills. Closer to the ground, lines and shapes can be found in the Asparagaceae, Cactaceae and Fouquieriaceae.

Returning to my yard, I want to point out our beautiful wrought iron fence. Yes, it shows the passing of time but I love it all the more that aged appearance. Below is my granddaughter standing in front of one of the gates. Originally, the picture’s purpose was to capture her in the pre-storm light but I think you can get an idea of the design of the fence anyway. Wrought iron fences in various styles are found at several homes in town and around several of the plots in the Evergreen cemetery.

Amazingly, the Stewart Iron Works Co. has been in business since 1862 and is still operating in Covington, KY. From their catalog I identified our fence design as the bow and hairpin.

Bow and Hairpin
Although I love the idea of mirroring the natural arrangements found in our landscape, it seemed to me that the grid created by the straight walkways and the fence’s border of our property divided the space too many times to achieve a natural setting. Therefore, I made the decision to strike a balance between the Victorian and Progressive landscaping designs. Ultimately, I choose the shape of the gate and the bow and hairpin fence for my inspiration. The illustration below shows the design from an aerial perspective.

For another view, below is a close-up of the center plot taken in September. The raised bed supported by the large stones and the gravel filled edges are engineered to protect the soil from washing away during the monsoon season. Hopefully the edges will act like a shallow moat and will allow greater water absorption. During the dry season we can walk on the gravel to cut the corners to reach the cement path guilt free. The ring of rocks around the plants will encourage water to pool because the plants are recessed in the raised bed.

In October, my partner and I were taking a walk. The Bisbee Public Works supervisor drove by and turned around to inform us that there was a huge pile of mulch available at the recycling center. It just so happened that I needed mulch to finish filling in the raised bed. I told the supervisor that I appreciated the information. Thanks to the city of Bisbee, the dirt in the beds are protected during the winter months.

I intended to be historically correct but finally chose to integrate many approaches instead. The fact that I’m enjoying the process, using available materials and honoring the character of the place, all of which are defined as Arts and Crafts values, makes me feel good about the project all the same.

If you ever are in Florence, Italy I highly recommend visiting the Boboli Gardens. This is what showing off your wealth looks like.

Cypress Lane in Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy 2001

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